March 3, 2014
The government of South Korea has empowered smartphone users by requiring that they have the ability to delete the vast majority of software pre-installed on their devices. This action represents an important step expanding the rights of individual technology users, and it provides a useful lesson for authorities in other countries, including the United States.
Smartphones and other consumer electronic devices are now routinely sold with a variety of software apps pre-installed. For example, it is reported that a standard Galaxy S4 smartphone from Samsung is currently distributed to consumers with approximately 80 different apps pre-installed on the device.
South Korean authorities recognized that the large number of software apps pre-installed on devices can adversely affect the performance of those devices. For example, the proliferation of pre-installed apps can reduce battery life and decrease usable data storage capacity. Excessive use of apps can degrade smartphone performance.
In an effort to help improve the technical performance of the equipment, South Korea will require, effective in April 2014, that all but a handful of core software apps that are pre-installed on smartphone should be accessible to the users of devices. The owners of the equipment can then delete the apps as they choose.
User control over pre-installed apps can also help to protect data privacy and security. To the extent that any of the pre-installed apps collect and share user data, they comprise a threat to user security and privacy. By empowering users to identify and delete such software, South Korean authorities are providing individual users with greater control over both their equipment and their personal information.
This South Korean approach to the challenge presented by software “bloat” is innovative and important. It represents a significant step forward empowering consumers to exercise greater control over their devices. Regulations that assist consumers to understand the apps that are installed on their devices and to assert greater control over that software perform an important public service. The South Korean action is consistent with an expanding trend toward granting consumers greater control over their communications devices.
Other countries should follow the South Korean lead. Excessive use of pre-installed software on smartphones and other electronic devices can degrade technical performance and threaten the interests of consumers. South Korea’s approach to this issue provides important rights to consumers and facilitates development of more efficient and effective devices. The United States and other nations should adopt similar rules.