EU wants to make smartphone bloatware removable

Although things have definitely improved a bit, bloatware, a.k.a. preloaded apps from OEMs and carriers, are still one of the unnecessary evils of smartphone life. It’s understandable that companies want to offer apps and services they presume consumers are dying to use (they aren’t) but there’s little to no excuse why they can’t be uninstalled. A new law baking in the European Union, however, could require manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and Xiaomi to finally let users decide whether they want to keep those pre-installed apps or not.

Back when phone storage capacities averaged around 32GB, these preloaded apps truly took up a lot of space that could have been used for users’ own apps, hence the nickname bloatware. These days, the storage space they take up seems almost negligible but they’re still there, sometimes even using up memory, data, and battery even when left unused forever.

Phone makers previously argued that these apps provided functionality essential to the experience they’re offering, from email to calendar apps. That, however, was before Google started requiring them to ship with its own apps, pretty much duplicating many pieces of OEM apps. It is already possible to disable some of these pre-installed apps so why not let users remove them completely.

The EU might require manufacturers to do exactly that should the new Digital Services Act pass later this year. On a technical level, OEMs will be forced to disentangle these apps from the core firmware, something that a few manufacturers did start to do a few years back. They will also have to ensure that their phones will still function properly even when these pieces get removed completely, something OEMs will probably complain about or ask for some grace period to prepare.

This provision is actually just a small part of that law which mostly focuses on curbing Big Tech’s control over the Internet. Unfortunately, that Act also only applies to those under the EU’s domain, leaving US carriers, which are regarded to be the biggest offenders, to continue their bloatware practice.

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