Every once in awhile I let slip in conversation that I think OnePlus is an unethical company. My interlocutors are often surprised by this, and I'm often surprised by their surprise.
I thought I'd create this post to list what I believe are the best examples of OnePlus’ unethical approach to just about everything.
Here's my case against OnePlus:
1. They lied about their founding.
The company was founded by former OPPO vice president, Pete Lau, and former OPPO marketing chief, Carl Pei. They claimed to have left OPPO to strike out on their own, and they made a big deal about this "origin story."
When Lau announced the founding of OnePlus, he said: "Today is my last day at OPPO."
In fact, they never left OPPO.
OnePlus is a "private company." But 100% of the stock in the company is owned by Oppo Electronics. (OPPO itself is a brand of the Chinese electronics giant BBK Electronics, which sells products mainly in Russia, but also in the United States. In America, BBK products are sold under the Memorex and Philco brands.)
The whole purpose of this arrangement appears to be to create the illusion of a startup, when in fact it's owned by a giant corporation. So, rather than being an innovative, scrappy startup owned by its rebel founders, OnePlus is actually owned by a giant electronics manufacturer and the "founders" are mere employees.
(I don't mind the giant corporation. I mind the lie.)
2. They engaged in sexist marketing.
OnePlus has often experimented with aggressive marketing tactics. One of the worst was their "Ladies First" contest, whereby OnePlus called on women to draw the OnePlus logo somewhere on their body or on a sheet of paper and post the picture on social media. The company said that the 50 "most well-liked" photos (ranked by mostly male forum members) would earn a free T-shirt and permission to buy a OnePlus One phone at full price.
3. They engaged in wasteful marketing.
OnePlus initiated a "Smash the Past" contest. The company called on the public to capture video of themselves smashing their existing smartphone for the chance to win one of 100 OnePlus phones for a $1 each.
OnePlus convinced more than 140,000 people destroy perfectly good phones, unleashing toxic chemicals into the environment and wrecking phones that could have been sold or put into the hands of someone who needed a phone.
4. They shipped phones with hidden backdoors.
A security researcher discovered apps installed on OxygenOS-powered OnePlus phones called EngineerMode and OnePlusLogKit that could give hackers access to WiFi, NFC and GPS logs and enable them to root a OnePlus phone without unlocking the bootloader.
5. They lied to customers about sales.
OnePlus consistently uses fake "success theater" tactics to create the impression of wild success. The original sin of the company is to require invitations and artificial scarcity to make OnePlus phones hard to get.
But they also did this by outright lying about sales, telling customers in India: "Thanks for making OnePlus 5 the highest-grossing phone ever."
After getting caught, they claimed that the character limitations of SMS forced them to say "ever" instead of "in the launch week."
6. They were caught spying on users.
OnePlus was caught harvesting data on users, including phone locks and unlocks, reboots, IMEI numbers, phone numbers, MAC addresses and other wireless network data, along with the phone’s serial number.
7. They’re careless with customers’ personal data.
The company admitted in January of 2018 that a hack attack compromised the credit card data of up to 40,000 customers.
8. They were caught cheating at benchmarks.
And more than once.
XDA detailed how the OnePlus 5 review units OnePlus sent to reviewers was altered to cheat on benchmark tests.
9. They deleted negative reviews on their website.
OnePlus apparently and routinely deletes negative reviews on their websites, creating the false impression that all customers are happy with their products.
10. They lied about bezel size.
OnePlus marketed their OnePlus 6T smartphone on Instagram using doctored images that showed the bezel size as being smaller than it really is.
11. They achieved the fastest face unlock by shipping an insecure system.
OnePlus got a reputation for having the fastest-unlocking phone on the market for face unlock. But they achieved this by shipping a system that can be unlocked with a printed photo of the user’s face.
Face unlock is supposed to enhance security, not decrease it.
It all adds up
For some of these lapses, other companies have been similarly accused. For example, Samsung has been accused of cheating on benchmarks. LG has been accused of lying about bezel size, etc. But. to the best of my knowledge, OnePlus is the only company accused of all these things.
When accused of all these transgressions, OnePlus always has a story or reason or justification for why they're not really lying, cheating or being assholes.
They're like Facebook in that regard -- aggressively moving fast and breaking things, then apologizing or justifying when caught.
I think that it makes sense to avoid companies that lie, cheat and abuse.