The Australian consumer protection agency is suing Samsung over what it says are misleading ads that cause people to think they can safely take their Galaxy phones into swimming pools or the ocean without damaging them.
Can you play in ocean water with your Samsung Galaxy phone without damaging it? You might think the answer is yes, based on videos like this one, used to introduce the Samsung Galaxy S10 in February:
You might also get that impression from Samsung's website. Although the site doesn't say its phones are "waterproof"--a vague term used for anything from splashing your phone while washing your hands to taking it on a 100-foot scuba dive--it does say that many Galaxy phones come with an IP (ingress protection) rating of 68 or more, which means they can safely be immersed in about five feet of water for at least 30 minutes and suffer no harm. Freshwater, that is.
A swimming pool is usually filled with chlorinated water which is not quite the same thing. And the ocean is filled with seawater which is very much not the same thing. Samsung's 68 IP-rated phones might not perform well at all if immersed for half an hour in either of these liquids.
You could get the wrong impression, though, from more than 300 Samsung ads distributed in Australia, which show people using their phones at the bottom of a swimming pool or while underwater in the ocean. And so the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is taking Samsung to court over what it calls "false, misleading and deceptive representations in advertising the water resistance of various 'Galaxy' branded mobile phones."
Though Americans overall don't spend as much time at the beach as Australians seem to, a similar situation exists here. The U.S. Samsung site leads off with the video above showing young people using the S10 to photograph themselves and each other while riding motorized surfboards across a bay. If you take the time to dig into the details of the S10 by expanding the comparison among the different models of phone and then scrolling through the many specs about camera resolution, connectivity, and so on, you'll eventually get to this statement:
Water Resistance IP68
*Based on test conditions for submersion in up to 1.5 meters of freshwater for up to 30 minutes. Not advised for beach or pool use. Water or dust damage not covered by warranty.
If you're the sort of person who carefully combs through every specification on a device before you buy it, you might possibly have found that disclaimer before buying your "water-resistant" Galaxy phone. But if not, you might well have been deceived by the video above and others like it.
False or misleading advertising is illegal in the U.S. as well, but here the usual remedy seems to be simply requiring the offender to stop displaying the ad. In Australia, things are a bit different. A breach of the law could result in a fine of up to 10 million Australian dollars, or about $7 million, and each of the 300 ads could be considered a separate breach.
Samsung, not surprisingly, says it will fight the charges. Samsung Australia said in a statement:
Samsung stands by its marketing and advertising of the water resistancy of its smartphones. We are also confident that we provide customers with free-of-charge remedies in a manner consistent with Samsung's obligations under its manufacturer warranty and the Australian Consumer Law.
Of course, since the fine print says that Samsung won't replace phones under warranty if they're water damaged, the company may well consider that in those situations, "Samsung's obligations under its manufacturer warranty" are nothing at all.
This is the first time Samsung's been taken to court for advertising that suggested its phones are more water resistant than they actually are, but it's not the first time it's been called out for doing so. In 2016 Consumer Reports performed a water resistance test on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Active, and it failed. At the time, the company claimed that Consumer Reports had tested one of a few defective phones. But several consumers posted comments to the story to say that water had killed their S7 Active phones as well.
It will be interesting to see how the Australian lawsuit proceeds. Meantime, if you have a Samsung Galaxy phone and you're headed to the beach or the pool this weekend, make sure to keep it well away from the water.