RogerBW's Blog

Why I have no smartphone 21 May 2014

A reader expressed surprise that I don't use a smartphone.

I currently use a Nokia C2-01, which was released in 2011. It runs the Nokia S40 platform (pre-Symbian). It has a camera (not too bad), and a very basic web browser (good enough for traintimes.org.uk and the Wellington Beer Board). The battery lasts around a week and a half of typical usage. In theory there are some games and things available, but I've never looked into it.

Why not an iPhone or Android? Because they're closed systems to which I'm expected to entrust personal data. The most that can be leaked off this phone is some names and numbers. If I had a device that could carry more important information, I'd want full control of it: at the very least, an ssh client (which works rather better with a keyboard, but keyboards on phones are so unfashionable dahling) and OpenVPN. I am not going to trust any key material to a closed platform; it will be leaked.

"But Android is open!" Yeah, except the bits that aren't. Can you control, or even be aware of, your phone's signal processor's access to the main memory? Look at all the information leaks that have already happened. Bad enough that there's a device ID trackable by cell tower proximity. It's not the individual low-level data gatherers I worry about; it's what can be done when you combine two or more big data sets. If I were in hock to Google, that's exactly what they'd be doing all the time; that's what they're for.

My approach to cloud services is that I run my own microcloud. (I'd better trademark that before someone else does.) When I'm out with a laptop, I set up a VPN connection to the network at home, and authenticate with kerberos (or worst case do a multihop keyed ssh). My address book is a vCard file on one of the machines at home. I read email with mutt on the remote box where email lives, not with a local email client. Ditto RSS feeds (which are processed as email, because mutt is good). Ditto most other things which offer a non-web option, which end up being most of the things I actually want to use.

Now I realise that this isn't what everyone wants to do (to a first approximation, everyone wants to use Facebook), and certainly it's the case that building products which will appeal to me is a quick route to bankruptcy, but what I actually want is a Linux box that fits in my pocket. Physically it would probably look a lot like a Psion series 3 or 5.


  1. Posted by Chris Bell at 10:32am on 21 May 2014

    I was listening to a Radio Four programme the other day in which someone was talking about cars you don't have to drive (which I have always thought will be fine and never go wrong, just like cars you drive yourse.... Ah. Yes, that might be a slight problem. But that is a different conversation) and the car they were talking about is being designed by Google. In fact, they took a drive in the car designed by Google, which took them smoothly around the place and only once called on the driver to take over.

    Then right at the end the interviewer asked about the guidance system and how it worked, and ended with "So you will know where every car is, all the time?" There was a little pause, whilst the cogs went round in the googleman's head, and then he said, "Yes."

    Hmmmm. Mobile phones make me feel the same way that did: I get a shudder down my spine, like what Ma used to call "A goose walking on my grave", about the way we casually allow companies for which we are the product rather than the customer to know all about us. And the vast majority of people don't know they eare doing it, or apparently care; if they did, Facebook wouldn't do very well.

    (Why do I cave to "Submit Query" after writing my comment, and will this query do?)

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:41am on 21 May 2014

    Even if you trust your phone's manufacturer (to be fair, Apple trades rather less on this than Google does, as it's not primarily an advertising company), you have all the fun of government access to data. And even if you trust your government and all possible future governments, we've seen plenty of times that special government-only access rapidly gets used by underpaid government workers and by the criminals who bribe them.

    This stuff can be done without intrusive data collection, just as automatic collection of vehicle tolls can be done without building up a history of movements of each vehicle. But there's no incentive to do it right. The vast majority of the population don't know, and don't care when they're told; it's too big and scary, and they want to keep using Facebook and Google.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:13pm on 21 May 2014

    I have no desire to use Facebook.

    I've recently been quite impressed with duckduckgo.com as a search engine. Results seem OK, and it neither tracks you nor keeps any logs, so if a government demands all the data they have on you they get an empty file. I also like the fact the search results are not tailored to me, so they're not skewed by what I have searched for before or what people have emailed to my gmail account (I have one only so that I can watch adult rated youtube clips, not that any of them are really what I call adult material).

    I don't have a smartphone either. I find the screen too small, it's like peering through someone's letterbox to browse the web or read email. Also the keypad is dire, and the larger phones that try to address this by sheer size are too big for my pockets. I have a five year old very basic Nokia phone use for phone calls and SMS. As well as that I carry an iPad 3 in my bag, which is large enough it has a decent screen and keyboard so I can read and type easily, like I'm doing now for this blog on 3G during my lunch hour at work.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 01:27pm on 21 May 2014

    I've been using the Duck for pretty much all my search requirements for over a year now. OpenStreetMap beats Google Maps for data reliability, though it's a shame there's no built-in routeing engine.

    I wouldn't mind a Linux terminal in my pocket, but I wouldn't want to call it a phone. When I was using a Psion, I hooked it up to the phone (over IRDA!) to the outside world only when I wanted to send or receive something; the default operating mode was off-line. iPad and Android tablets, to me, have the same privacy problem as smartphones: everything's controlled by someone else.

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