Two sides to every controversy: OnePlus is getting a bad rap

It's easy (and fun) to manufacture a controversy, especially when it's about a company with a past that thrived on controversy to begin with. I'm talking about OnePlus of course, and before you decide you've heard enough about OnePlus this week I'll urge you to stop, take a few minutes and read just one more thing.

I recently wrote an article that parrots the thoughts of a lot of folks by saying not to buy a phone from OnePlus right now because of all the privacy and user data-handling concerns that seem to have surrounded the company lately. A credit card breach, some user data moving out of the phone and into the internet, and a clipboard that was being monitored by another app was just too much to swallow in such a short time and from just one company. We deserve better.

Drama and smartphones go hand-in-hand on the internet.

No company likes seeing those kinds of words written about it, especially when its side of the story isn't nearly as worrying and isn't getting out past all the noise the internet is so good at making. And I include myself and Android Central here — we make our fair share of noise whenever we think some noise needs to be made. In any case, OnePlus reached out to me and after a friendly and informative chat, I've realized a few things: not everything can be taken at face value; transparency is important; and blowing things out of proportion is awfully easy to do when an army of people are willing to do it.

Pointing a finger is easy, too. I can point one at myself and say I should have heard out OnePlus before I took to the keyboard, I can point one at all of us and say we make up our minds and tune out anything that doesn't match up with our narrative, and I can point one at OnePlus to say that all this could be avoided if it were more transparent and got in front of it all with a candid statement from the top.

It's not my place to make you feel at ease regarding privacy concerns with OnePlus. It is my place to explain my issues and why I feel differently today. After reading through a mountain of forum posts, tweets, obscure articles and subsequent retractions, it looks like OnePlus fell victim to what the internet is good at — getting outraged, then moving on when the next thing caught our attention. A big part of it is human nature. Juicy gossip is more interesting to read and share than the boring follow-up that clears the air. To that end, articles and forum threads about OnePlus stealing data or credit card numbers (both are absolutely false) get passed around a lot more than the explanation or retractions to those articles.

I can say that the two biggest issues I had were about the way the clipboard was monitoring what users were typing, and how long it took for OnePlus to respond once it realized their payment system had been breached. Turns out that the clipboard thing is part misunderstanding, part fabrication and part signal-to-noise ratio. It's done to be helpful, and users in China are faced with one company's app blocking URLs to another company's content — just like OnePlus claimed it was and nobody listened because it did not get the message out. And I've been assured that the investigation into the credit card data breach is still in full force, was a priority since it was exposed, and even if the message didn't make it through, OnePlus did what was necessary to make sure no more financial data was getting mishandled as soon as the breach came to light.

Consider this my retraction. I hope it gets as much attention as the original.

This puts me back where I used to be when it comes to buying one of the company's products. Do I trust in OnePlus? Heavens no, but I don't have implicit trust in any for-profit corporation to do anything except keep being for-profit. I just won't write the company off as not caring or being capable of managing user data when it comes to its phones. It's obvious that someone there cares, and all of this is really hard to do. It's equally obvious that even news we want to hear can be buried so deeply that we never get to hear it, and that problem is bigger than just OnePlus.

That leaves me with a new issue. It's fine to make me feel at ease by reaching out for a one-to-one chat, but that doesn't help you unless a company plans to reach out to everyone that way. OnePlus is no stranger to controversy, which makes it a lot easier to build a case against it. The company needs to find a way to get the message out when there is something important to say. While recording our latest podcast, Managing Editor, Daniel Bader, said this needed Carl Pei (OnePlus co-founder and face of the company in much of its early marketing) to come forward with the company's statement. That's a grand idea, and when you are marketing a phone to a group of people who are enthusiasts and apt to tear it all apart to find things like this, it might work. It would definitely work better than responding in a forum post that gets buried under all the accusations.

OnePlus wants you to buy a phone from them, not steal your SMS history.

We can do our part, too. Yes, OnePlus has had its fair share of bad press, but that doesn't mean you should ignore one side of any future fiasco in the making. For example, OnePlus forum users are concerned about an app called MKey that's part of the Oreo update for the OnePlus 5T in India. It asks for permission to use the phone, send SMS, read contacts and media. It should, because it's a keyboard designed to make it easier for multi-language users employing India-specific fonts — and it can send SMS messages. It's like an emoji keyboard but not written for fun as much as utility. OnePlus explained what the app in question was and what it can do directly to the forum-goers who had those questions. The explanation was (and still is) ignored and claims of shipping data for Indian customers to China are still being thrown around. If you see an article that makes these claims, ask the author to talk to OnePlus.

And OnePlus, I'm asking you to talk to your customers. Don't just respond in kind with a forum post or a PR message on your blog, because that's not working. If we, as Android fans and enthusiasts, do our part, you'll need to do yours.

I'm still not ready to call the OnePlus 5T the best phone you can buy, but it is a phone you'll probably love if you do buy one. And OnePlus is trying hard to protect your data even if it has a difficult time convincing the internet at large.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.