[Tinkerphones] "We don't control our lives" - smartphones - tinkerphones - debian on smartphones

Karl gmkarl at gmail.com
Fri Jul 31 22:00:17 CEST 2020

I stumbled on this email and saw it contains unanswered questions I have
opinions on.  Answers in line below.

On Fri, Jul 31, 2020, 4:35 AM Zenaan Harkness <zen at freedbms.net> wrote:

> On Fri, Jul 31, 2020 at 09:51:16AM +0200, rhn wrote:
> > Regarding both emails, I think there's a shared concept that we have,
> but it's never explicitly stated, making it really hard to argue for it.
> >
> > The value of having an explicit goal is that it can be talked about:
> different aspects are visible when spelled out, as well as tradeoffs, and
> people talk past each other less when they have the same idea in front of
> them.
> >
> > We seem to understand that "smartphone" is worrisome, and "laptop" is
> better. But each of those is made of a large number of technologies. What
> differences really matter? Let me pose a few questions that can hopefully
> help find the important aspects.

The biggest issue with mobile devices is that the software and hardware
come customized by the distributor, and it is intentionally made hard to
change that.  With a PC you can change your filesystem, you can uninstall
factory applications, you can install linux, you can move system files and
hack them up, you can pull out hardware modules and replace them ... Most
phones deny most of this.  Phones additionally contain software and
hardware factory-forced spyware, such as the E911 protocol that responds
with your location to any cell tower that asks.

> 1. Would a phone without a mobile modem be free of the control issues?

This would help immensely because you could then control when it
communicates.  Phones nowadays have as many as 5 or more different radio
chips in them: unscrew the back and look for antenna traces and see.

> 2. Would a phone where the modem can't access RAM be free of the control
> issues?

The modem is usually interwound with many internal parts, not just the
RAM.  Isolation of the modem would be incredible: but the problem is that
manufacturers are choosing to hand the brainstems of everyone's phones to
all their business partners in general, not that one horrible design choice.

> 3. Would a phone without Android?

It is unfortunate that Android is new when posix operating systems need
support and have resources and work yearning to contribute, but Android
itself only harms our independence and freedom in that the distribution
model is such that every vendor hacks it into their own controlled mold,
and tries to makes that incredibly hard to change.

> 4. Would a phone without binary blobs?

This would be great but computers also suffer this issue.  The problem is
more that phones have such proprietary and diverse hardware that developing
open source drivers is not worth the investment effort.  On a laptop you
can get a USB camera, modem, keyboard, anything, that has open source
drivers, and disable the internal devices.  This option is not so available
on mobile devices

> 5. Would a phone with a mobile modem but one that can't be carried
> outside of home?

I don't see the value of this.

> 6. Would a phone with a mobile modem but using a SIP account?

Not as meaningful.

> 7. Would a laptop with a modem have the same issues?

As stated above, with a laptop you can remove the modem, you can make your
own modem, you can make a proxy protocol that connects you through someone
else's modem .... You can put a copper box around an external modem and
still use the laptop without advertising your pulse to rogue cell towers,
then open the box when you want to communicate.

> 8. Would a laptop with un-emulated Android have the same issues?

Only if the vendor locked down the bootloader and system partition, made
their own proprietary variants of all the peripherals and drivers, and
wired multiple mysterious radio chips to the CPU.

> All in all, both a phone and a laptop are computers, and I don't really
> see much difference between them, apart from size (and how close the modem
> is to CPU, although that's not universal). Using the words as a catch-all
> can be useful, but it obscures the actual important things that people care
> about.

It's the norm of giving control of communications to the vendors and
governments.  A phone where you can disable and remove the radios and
install an open source OS without voiding your warrantee would bring the
spaces closer, at least.

No more replies below.

> > Maybe another way to consider it is to imagine a tablet, given that they
> come from both camps, and saying what's good/bad about it.
> Yes computers exist and many people use them.
> Including me.
> I wish to use the computers which are in my possession, to put them to
> some useful purpose/ use, in my life.
> I would like to do this in a way where I maximise the control that I have,
> over each device in my possession.
> I also see value in working towards making this "personal control"
> principle, widely accessible "in action" for others in my community,
> especially those who value freedom ("if my neighbour is bound, it may not
> be long until I am bound").
> Put another way, the more freedom that people in my community _actually
> experience_ on a daily basis, the healthier our community is.
> > On Thu, 30 Jul 2020 12:54:34 +0000
> > Naqiao <naqiao at naqiao.hk> wrote:
> > > The idea of being able to run Debian on a phone is nice, but I think
> it misses
> > > the main point of the problem, this is, that mobile networks and
> phones are
> > > basically designed to control people, it's a political issue more than
> a
> > > technical one.
> There are indeed very real problems with some technologies (tracking,
> invasion of our right to privacy, binary blobs which facilitate these
> problems and worse, etc), and some of these problems we can fix to some
> degree, such as writing and deploying floss software to replace unfree
> software of all forms (including e.g. binary blobs).
> Some problems we can only solve with better tech, such as using a
> freedom-respecting phone where e.g. the GPS can be physically turned off
> when desired, and where the software respects the user's choices ragarding
> GPS data.
> Some problems are inherent in certain technology, such as mobile phone
> towers providing entwork access, exist in a fixed location, and therefore
> if you use that network, your entry point to that network is known to those
> who operate that network.
> > > I think the way to go is just stop using them, at least for a while:
> "no phone"
> > > can be better than a "bad phone".
> There are of course situations where not using anything that might track
> you, may be life saving (e.g. reporters in 'hostile' locations).
> There are other situations where a phone's GPS tracking may save your life
> (e.g. lost, possibly when kidnapped, etc.).
> Wisdom lies in how a user actually uses any particular tech tool, and how
> much control they actually have over the tool in their possession.
> Each tech, is a tool.
> Tools may be used for good, or for evil.  A hammer may be usd to murder
> someone, and it may be used to fix a roof.
> Some tools that are sold to us, and that perhaps the majority of people
> purchase unwittingly, are designed to compromise our control over that
> tool, and to compromise our freedom to exercise one or more of our human
> rights, such as our right to privacy of communication, or our right to
> freely travel anonymously on "public ways" (this is inherent in a communty,
> and without this, we compromise the whole community, e.g. for just one
> example, more people living in fear of one another arises from a lack of
> privacy).
> Let's create a world where we maximise our control over all the tools we
> use, and where all tools/tech we use, is designed to maximise our capacity
> to live our fundamental human rights.



There is proof inside many peoples' electronics.  Proof that a marketing
group would contract development of a frightening virus.  A virus that
responds to peoples' keystrokes and browsing habits, and changes what
people see on their devices.  A virus that alters political behavior en
masse, for profit.

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