Our original reporting on Verizon Wireless’s issues surrounding forced firmware updates have sparkedÂ controversy. As part of our consumer advocacy on the issue, we would like to post an update.
In response to our initial reporting, Verizon Media Relations insists that Verizon’s process of automatically updating phone’s firmware is safe. Verizon argues that, despite not notifying users that their device can be updated at any time (pre-sale), they are within their legal right to overwrite any portion of your phone’s software, without your consent. This includes regardless of where you bought your device from, or what manufacturer it was made by.
However, Verizon provided no assurance that there would be a backup safeguard, should the phone fail to update properly. That is a serious safety concern which we highlighted in our initial report. Verizon also insists that users are always given an opportunity to delay software updates, even mandatory updates. That’s where users (along with PhoneNews.com) and Verizon stop seeing eye-to-eye. As we noted previously, the Casio G’zOne Boulder (the first phone to receive forced firmware updates), updated itself without any user notification. We saw it ourselves, as did several other readers.
Other companies have had problems recently which highlight this issue. For example, a recent DirecTV software update rendered thousands of satellite receivers inoperable. DirecTV was able to resolve the issue because of a backup safeguard… nearly a day later. However, this highlights the potential for one malformed software update to brick thousands of phones, without any consent from the user… regardless of what situation the user may be in. Verizon did note to PhoneNews.com that theyÂ rigorouslyÂ test such updates before they are sent to phones.
In addition, some have noted to us the FCC’s policy (which we only touched on in our first report). Specifically, the FCC mandates that cell phones operate as Public Safety Access Points (PSAPs). This means that a phone must be able to call for emergency services (911) at all times. If a phone were to fail to update properly (a commonÂ occurrence), then the phone would fall out ofÂ compliance. A user mustÂ explicitlyÂ consent to each and every software update, in order to avoid this potential FCC violation. This ensures that the user is in a safe place, should the update fail or cause delays in reaching emergency services.
Since our original reporting on Verizon’s FOTA woes, Verizon Wireless has removed PhoneNews.com’s editor-in-chief from the Verizon Wireless Customer Council. Started two years ago, the Customer Council is Verizon’s independent think tank, paneled by experts in the consumer community. While we did not report on this at the time, the entire Customer Council has internally objected to Verizon’s FOTA process. Every user that discussed issue, reported at least one critical objection with the current process.
Verizon insists that the two events are not correlated. However, Verizon has given conflicting statements about media paneling on the think tank. While PhoneNews.com’s editor-in-chief was originally were paneled as a member of the media, Verizon now claims that members of the media were not intended to be paneled on the Council. Other members of the media were also removed from the panel.
In addition, Customer Council members, as well as PhoneNews.com readers, have witnessed phones updating themselves, without any user notification. Notification, that Verizon still insists phones give users before updating.
PhoneNews.com will continue to pursue this issue, in the hope that Verizon will come intoÂ compliance, and general common sense about phone updates. It simply is not safe for a phone (a life-saving device) to update its firmware without any user consent. We are preparing an FCC complaint, that we will provide to viewers so that they can let the FCC know just how important this issue is.