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Samsung Galaxy A5

An ad for the Samsung Galaxy A5. Photo: Samsung


The Inertia

Remember way back when Samsung was holding hands with the World Surf League? The tech giant was the title sponsor giving us such gems as the Samsung Galaxy surfboard. Then, when the 2017 season rolled around, Samsung decided that the marriage was over, leaving the WSL in the lurch. It didn’t entirely leave the surfing sphere, however, and now it’s being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for allegedly misleading consumers of their smartphone’s water resistance capabilities.

When the Association of Surfing Professionals changed its name to the World Surf League, it made a lot of big changes. Paul Speaker’s temporary presence, of course, changed the outward facing platform to something that pulled heavily from his previous job at the NFL. Billionaire businessman Dirk Ziff sat back and threw money down the funnel, probably hoping to kickstart something huge. New sponsors signed on: Tag Heuer, Jeep, and the title sponsor, Samsung, all pitched money into a very expensive endeavor. But Samsung has had a few pretty disastrous years. First, their phones started exploding—very bad for business—and then there was the massive scandal involving the head of the Samsung corporation, some $36 million, and President Park Geun-hye who was impeached for her involvement.

Well, add another one to the list, because the ACCC is pissed at Samsung advertisements that led people to believe its smartphones could be taken surfing. Aside from the fact that no one should ever bring their phone surfing with them, Samsung’s smartphones can’t in fact, be taken surfing.

“The ACCC alleges Samsung’s advertisements falsely and misleadingly represented Galaxy phones would be suitable for use in, or for exposure to, all types of water,” said ACCC Chairman Rod Sims. “Including in ocean water and swimming pools, and would not be affected by such exposure to water for the life of the phone, when this was not the case.”

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Since 2016, Samsung has been running more than 300 ads that say several Galaxy phones have IP68 water resistance, which is supposed to let the user dunk their phone in five feet of water for half an hour. According to the ACCC’s lawsuit, however, Samsung “did not know or sufficiently test the effects of pool or saltwater exposure on its phones when ads showed them fully submerged.”

The whole thing began in 2016, when Consumer Reports said Galaxy S7 phone failed an immersion test. Samsung hit back, saying the failed test was because of a manufacturing defect that only affected a few devices. They said they fixed the issue, but Reuters reported that “customers online continued reporting problems.”

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Then, to make matters worse, Samsung refused to honor warranty claims after users drowned their phones. “Samsung showed the Galaxy phones used in situations they shouldn’t be to attract customers,” Sims continued. “Samsung’s advertisements, we believe, denied consumers an informed choice and gave Samsung an unfair competitive advantage.”

If the ACCC proves that Samsung broke the law, each instance after September 1, 2018, could cost the company up to A$10 million (US $7 million). Instances before could ring up penalties as high as A$1.1 million. Samsung’s not taking it sitting down, saying it stood by its advertising, complied with Australian law, and would defend the case.

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