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ACLU: Slow smartphone updates are privacy threat

LONDON — A leading US civil-rights organizations is taking on an unusual cause: spotty smartphone updates.

The American Civil Liberties Union is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate what it considers a failure by US wireless carriers to properly update the Google-built operating system used on Android phones. The ACLU says sluggish fixes have been saddling many smartphone users with software that is out of date and dangerous.

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Experts and government officials have long warned that failing to fix known security flaws gives hackers opportunities to steal data or use the devices to launch larger attacks.

The ACLU’s 17-page complaint, filed Tuesday, accused carriers AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp., T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless of ignoring those warnings.

It cited figures showing only 2 percent of Android devices worldwide had the latest version of Google’s operating system installed.

The complaint said the carriers were exposing Android customers to ‘‘substantial harm’’ by not moving fast enough on upgrades. The ACLU asked the FTC to force carriers to either warn customers about the issue or start offering refunds.

The FTC said it received the ACLU’s complaint but declined to comment further.

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