The Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission yesterday formally announced it has taken legal action against manufacturers Samsung and Oppo over their practice of pre-installing apps on their smartphones.
The Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court said on Wednesday it had accepted separate cases against Tianjin Samsung Telecommunications Technology Co Ltd and Guangdong Oppo Mobile Telecommunications Co Ltd.
Tao Ailian, secretary-general of the commission, said it filed the public interest lawsuits after investigating complaints from the public about unwanted apps.
In a study of 20 smartphones, the commission found several that were sold with apps already installed, many of which could not be removed. It also claimed that some phones "stole" cellular data.
Two of the offending models were a Samsung SM-N9008S, which had 44 apps installed prior to purchase, and the Oppo X9007 model, which had 71 such programs, the commission said.
The apps installed on the Samsung model included an electronic dictionary and an online shopping program. The Oppo model came complete with various games and other programs, the commission said.
Neither company informed buyers of the presence of the apps, which infringed the consumers' rights to know, it said.
"The litigation is our latest attempt to safeguard consumers' rights after other methods failed," Tao said, without elaborating on what other steps had been taken.
"We hope it will force other companies in the sector to end the unreasonable, but common, practice of pre-installing apps without telling consumers. This is something that is very much necessary for the healthy development of the whole industry," he said.
In the legal action, the commission is seeking a ruling that would make Samsung and Oppo legally obliged to make clear on the packaging of their smartphones what apps have been installed and also to provide instructions on how they can be removed.
The framework of public interest litigation is designed to make it easier for organizations to pursue legal action against big businesses on behalf of individuals or groups of citizens, said local lawyer Jiang Xian.
"The cost to an individual of pursuing such a case would be prohibitive," he said.
The cases filed by the consumer rights commission are the first of their kind to be accepted by a Shanghai court.
Samsung and Oppo have 15 days from the date of the cases being accepted to enter a defense. After that the court will likely announce the trial dates.
In a related case, a woman in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, has appealed to a higher court after losing a lawsuit against Apple Inc.
In a case heard last year at the Futian District People's Court, she claimed the pre-installed apps on an iPhone5 she had purchased could not be removed and that they were stealing her personal data.
The court ruled against her and she is now waiting for the Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court to rule on her appeal.