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Where’s My Smartphone Update? The Feds Are Asking Too

Want to know why your smartphone hasn’t received the latest security update? So does Uncle Sam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has ordered eight leading handset makers — Apple, Blackberry, Google, HTC, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Motorola and Samsung — to explain their procedures for patching vulnerabilities in smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.

At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is quizzing mobile carriers on what’s preventing them from issuing updates in a timelier manner.

“We appreciate efforts made by operating system providers, original equipment manufacturers, and mobile service providers to respond quickly to address vulnerabilities as they arise,”  FCC wireless telecommunications bureau chief Jon Wilkins wrote in a letter to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, TracFone and U.S. Cellular. “We are concerned, however, that there are significant delays in delivering patches to actual devices — and that older devices may never be patched.”

By way of example, Wilkins cited the “Stagefright” exploit which could potentially hack nearly 1 billion Android devices worldwide.

Consumers have long complained about the seemingly inordinate amount of time it takes carriers and OEMs to issue over-the-air updates to their mobile phones. The lag is especially grating for Android users, as Google regularly releases new and ostensibly improved versions of its OS, and provides monthly security patches that are readily received by its own Nexus devices.

But carriers and handset makers, most of whom customize Android with their own interfaces and service tweaks, have argued that extended compatibility testing is required before issuing the updates, less they cause phones to act buggy.

Based on their inquiries though, the Feds aren’t necessarily buying it.