The G’zOne Boulder is Verizon’s first phone to receive Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) updates. Verizon began testing FOTA earlier this year, making it the last national carrier to adopt some form of over-the-air updating.
The idea of FOTA is simple, to work like the software update function on a computer. When an update is available, the user is prompted, and told that they should install the update. While PhoneNews.com has pushed the industry for FOTA support for nearly five years; there are key things that FOTA must be able to do, in order to be successful. Primarily, it should check for updates automatically, prompting the user when an update is available. Many phones have FOTA, but the user needs to know how to check for updates in order for it to work.
However, Verizon Wireless appears to have broken that rule, in a new way. It appears that Verizon Wireless phones will now initiate FOTA updates without the user’s consent. We confirmed tonight that our G’zOne Boulder initiated a firmware update, without our consent. We had no way of stopping the update until after it was completed.
This is anti-consumer on several levels. One, a firmware update can damage a phone, rendering it useless. Having an update happen during a businesss-critical situation could cause serious financial… and possibly, personal harm. Someone could die, and that’s not a joke… if a phone were to update, and the update were to damage the phone. We don’t want to wait for the first time someone wants to call 911, only to find their phone is updating, or was damaged in an update.
Second, an update can erase user content. We have seen this countless times, with Verizon Wireless updates in particular. This includes purchased content from Verizon’s Media Center (Get-it-Now aka BREW).
Third, an update can have unwanted behavior. A user may not want some feature added, removed, or change in the manner that Verizon updated a device. We have seen this on several phones.
We cannot urge users enough to complain, both to Verizon, and to the FCC, as well as to spread the word with a Digg, about this legally dubious behavior. As Microsoft learned with the Xbox, a device runs into legal issues when it updates itself without user consent. After class action suits, Microsoft was forced to prompt users before updating their Xbox consoles, due to unwanted behavioral changes added by Microsoft to the Xbox console in later software versions.
To be clear, our editorial review of this method of updating, finds it to be illegal. We cannot insist enough that it is dangerous, and must be halted. A phone is not a cable box, it is a lifeline that someone paid in full to own.
What is the solution? Simple. Verizon phones should check for updates automatically. But, they should prompt the user, and ask them if they want to install the update. That way, someone on a mountain expedition, or someone half way around the world on a business trip, doesn’t have to worry about their phone being bricked or altered in any way, by a software update.