Some consumers have learned that they can't delete Facebook and other mobile apps from their Samsung smartphones. Bloomberg described one consumer's experiences:
"Winke bought his Samsung Galaxy S8, an Android-based device that comes with Facebook’s social network already installed, when it was introduced in 2017. He has used the Facebook app to connect with old friends and to share pictures of natural landscapes and his Siamese cat -- but he didn’t want to be stuck with it. He tried to remove the program from his phone, but the chatter proved true -- it was undeletable. He found only an option to "disable," and he wasn’t sure what that meant."
Samsung phones operate using Google's Android operating system (OS). The "chatter" refers to online complaints by Samsung phone owners. There were plenty of complaints, ranging from snarky:
Hilarious. Users find out that their Samsung (or really any Android device) won’t let them delete X app, and they get pissed. Didn’t you realize that your smartphone was subsidized with proceeds from the sale of your data? https://t.co/hbdjXdf8Vu #theMoreYouKnow #privacy— Ted Lee (@tedthedev) January 8, 2019
One of the ways companies monetize hardware outside of margins is through data exploitation, and partnering with other companies that do the same: Facebook.— Rene Ritchie (@reneritchie) January 8, 2019
Samsung prices are already high, but this has to be viewed as an additional “cost” of ownershiphttps://t.co/81XYZxJYWJ
Some persons shared their (understandable) anger:
@samsung I want to delete my Facebook account from my Samsung 7 edge. If I can't delete it I will buy another brand phone and this will be my last Samsung. Please update the software and give us the option to remove Facebook ASAP.#byebyefacebook #samsung— Moritz (@moritzkooistra) April 11, 2018
One person reminded consumers of bigger issues with Android OS phones:
Facebook scraped call, text message data for years from Android phones https://t.co/0H4qmsITE1— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) March 25, 2018
And, that privacy concern still exists. Sophos Labs reported:
"Advocacy group Privacy International announced the findings in a presentation at the 35th Chaos Computer Congress late last month. The organization tested 34 apps and documented the results, as part of a downloadable report... 61% of the apps tested automatically tell Facebook that a user has opened them. This accompanies other basic event data such as an app being closed, along with information about their device and suspected location based on language and time settings. Apps have been doing this even when users don’t have a Facebook account, the report said. Some apps went far beyond basic event information, sending highly detailed data. For example, the travel app Kayak routinely sends search information including departure and arrival dates and cities, and numbers of tickets (including tickets for children)."
After multiple data breaches and privacy snafus, some Facebook users have decided to either quit the Facebook mobile app or quit the service entirely. Now, some Samsung phone users have learned that quitting can be more difficult, and they don't have as much control over their devices as they thought.
How did this happen? Bloomberg explained:
"Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, said it provides a pre-installed Facebook app on selected models with options to disable it, and once it’s disabled, the app is no longer running. Facebook declined to provide a list of the partners with which it has deals for permanent apps, saying that those agreements vary by region and type... consumers may not know if Facebook is pre-loaded unless they specifically ask a customer service representative when they purchase a phone."
Not good. So, now we know that there are two classes of mobile apps: 1) pre-installed and 2) permanent. Pre-installed apps come on new devices. Some pre-installed apps can be deleted by users. Permanent mobile apps are pre-installed apps which cannot be removed/deleted by users. Users can only disable permanent apps.
Sadly, there's more and it's not only Facebook. Bloomberg cited other agreements:
"A T-Mobile US Inc. list of apps built into its version of the Samsung Galaxy S9, for example, includes the social network as well as Amazon.com Inc. The phone also comes loaded with many Google apps such as YouTube, Google Play Music and Gmail... Other phone makers and service providers, including LG Electronics Inc., Sony Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., have made similar deals with app makers..."
This is disturbing. There seem to be several issues:
- Notice: consumers should be informed before purchase of any and all phone apps which can't be removed. The presence of permanent mobile apps suggests either a lack of notice, notice buried within legal language of phone manufacturers' user agreements, or both.
- Privacy: just because a mobile app isn't running doesn't mean it isn't operating. Stealth apps can still collect GPS location and device information while running in the background; and then transmit it to manufacturers. Hopefully, some enterprising technicians or testing labs will verify independently whether "disabled" permanent mobile apps have truly stopped working.
- Transparency: phone manufacturers should explain and publish their lists of partners with both pre-installed and permanent app agreements -- for each device model. Otherwise, consumers cannot make informed purchase decisions about phones.
- Scope: the Samsung-Facebook pre-installed apps raises questions about other devices with permanent apps: phones, tablets, laptops, smart televisions, and automotive vehicles. Perhaps, some independent testing by Consumer Reports can determine a full list of devices with permanent apps.
- Nothing is free. Pre-installed app agreements indicate another method which device manufacturers use to make money, by collecting and sharing consumers' data with other tech companies.
The bottom line is trust. Consumers have more valid reasons to distrust some device manufacturers and OS developers. What issues do you see? What are your thoughts about permanent mobile apps?