Monday, December 10, 2018

Scary smart phones

Younger Daughter, attempting with frustration to get her phone issues straightened out before her first deployment -- and knowing my general hostility toward smart phones in general -- sent a link to this comical Saturday Night Live sketch:

This sketch -- ending with the words "It's an old person's nightmare" -- puts me firmly in the camp of a crotchety fuddy-duddy who can't handle the latest technology.

I don't know about the "crotchety" part, but I'm unquestionably a fuddy-duddy loathe to embrace anything technological (my preferred description is "Luddite"). But once in a while my concerns about smart phones are justified.

Consider this article, profiled this morning on Drudge: Your apps know where you were last night, and they’re not keeping it secret.

Your smart little smart phone, it turns out, is pinging your location every two seconds. It maps your every move, your every stop, your every clandestine trip to Planned Parenthood or the apartment of the hunky guy down the hall. The apps doing this tracking then sell the information without the knowledge of the owner.

"As smartphones have become ubiquitous and technology more accurate, an industry of snooping on people’s daily habits has spread and grown more intrusive," notes the article. "At least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information. ... The database ... reveals people’s travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day."

The article continues: "Businesses say their interest is in the patterns, not the identities, that the data reveals about consumers. They note that the information apps collect is tied not to someone’s name or phone number but to a unique ID. But those with access to the raw data — including employees or clients — could still identify a person without consent. They could follow someone they knew, by pinpointing a phone that regularly spent time at that person’s home address. Or, working in reverse, they could attach a name to an anonymous dot, by seeing where the device spent nights and using public records to figure out who lived there."

Does anyone else find this just plain creepy?

In dystopian literature, the future is dire because everyone is microchipped and monitored 24/7. But the future, it seems, is here. It seems smart phones are just as invasive as those under-the-skin chips.

Both our girls have smart phones, and I'll admit it fills me with concern. Fuddy-duddy that I am, I just don't like or trust the durn things.

Turns out I may have a very good reason for my hostility.


  1. When the App if free, YOU are the product. Just figure that you are taking Mark Zuckerberg, or the NSA with you wherever you go with your smart phone. Zuck wants to know that you spent 30 minutes in the fabric store, so he can sell ads to the fabric store or their competitors. You know, annoying ads like everything is 20% off on even dated Tuesdays!! Some you may like, most you ignore. The government on the other hand is "sampling" for key words or locations that might add up to you being nefarious. If triggered, they start monitoring you, all your contacts, etc. to see if they need to investigate you. Thanks to our congress, they all seem to agree that the fourth amendment does not apply to darned near any kind of communication they want to snoop on. Maybe a letter written with a quill pen and hand delivered is safe, until they bust in and take it. Reading the "Terms and Conditions" of many free Apps is frightening. I printed out and read a four page T&C for a flashlight app. to find that the maker could turn your microphone without your knowledge or permission. It also stated that it could turn your camera on without your knowledge or permission, and the same for location data. It could track you for an undetermined period of time, without your knowledge or consent, and did not have to share the information with you if asked, or at all. It's a scary world out there and I'm just glad my kids are all adults now. just think about a 13 year old downloading one of these "free" Apps, and just clicking "I Accept".

  2. Patrice, you are so very correct. There are those that say"if you have nothing to hide" what's the problem! Do they not know the meaning of privacy, or perhaps what the meaning entails. In short, it is my life, where I go, whom I talk to and about what, what I do and when, is my business. it is not public domain. It is my life to live as I see fit, not someone else's or some organization/agency to dictate to. I applaud you for calling bunko on the increasing use of technology as a cure all, with few exception, such as where it is a benefit and not a dictator as in it's present form.

  3. Well, it's a good thing I don't have a smart phone. I have an ancient old flip phone that I rarely turn on and use only three to five minutes every few months. Many times I don't remember to take it with me. Sometimes it sits on the desk, out of juice, for weeks.

    It's just as good, I'm a very boring person to follow around. My "watchers" have long since died of boredom.

  4. In 1988 I was the first nurse manager in our hospital to have a "car phone". Management told me it was a fad. I fought hard for all our hospice nurses to have one. I'm retired now but my daughter, also an RN at the same hospital, tells me they were just given name tags...NAME TAGS...that monitor their every move, including how long they spend in the bathroom, all in the name of efficiency. So appalled that I once pushed this invasive technological nightmare.

  5. Years ago, back when everybody wasn't thinking about SIGINT and personal privacy coming together, there were only a few companies offering "Faraday tech" to block signals leakage.

    Now there are many companies like one of the originals that offers "Faraday tech" in small, medium, large, "tent", and "drone drop" sizes.

    Years ago, if you were buying this stuff, you were one of the following: working for an intel agency, working as an intel agency, working for a global business with serious security problems, working for a telecom, working in a potentially nefarious venture that meant you were hiding from one or more governments ... or you were just an overly-paranoid crackpot.

    Now it's become mainstream, and you can buy fairly decent but not great "Faraday tech" at most luggage shops in American malls.

    What hasn't become mainstream knowledge is that there are still a large number of weakly encrypted SIM cards out there that allow SIM card cloning. That's on top of the problem of many phones having weak security and manufacturer-programmed master unlock codes. Clone the SIM and you have access to mobile comms, and if you can hack the phone, you have access to everything in it.

    What a wonderful gift for identity thieves this Christmas!

    That's why I never, ever leave anyone alone with my phone unsecured. It goes into a Faraday bag in my locked backpack, and if that's not going to be good enough, Sentry Safe and other companies have reasonably decent "portable safes" with integral combo locks that can also be chained to furniture with padlocks.

    That's also why I don't hand my phone over to anyone to "key in a number", no matter how attractive she might be, and that's why I have my phone powered down with the SD card stuffed inside a money belt when I go through airport security.

    As for whether airport security ever sees the SD card, they'll be too busy noticing the British gold sovereign that's in front of it in the money belt, and so it's never actually come up.

    One useful ruse for mobile devices that are too smart for everyone's good is that you can put them into developer mode, allowing you to run an app that fakes your current location.

    Right now my new phone is "resting comfortably" in a hotel on the isle of Reunion with Wi-Fi hooked into an external VPN connection into France, just so I can watch the network traffic coming out of it for anything suspicious in terms of geo-location.

    It's been an interesting shakedown so far.

    "Rooting" an Android phone has become an absolute must, and getting control of the boot loader is absolutely essential.

    One last bit of "crackpot" advice: on Android, Gboard is never to be trusted -- get a new keyboard app, something like AnySoftKeyboard with open source code that doesn't require Internet privileges.

    That's how Google can get interesting search keywords from your device even if you use DuckDuckGo for all of your searches ...

    1. If you want a rudimentary faraday cage for your cell phone, put it in a empty foil potato chip/crisps bag. Wrap the bag up and to test it, send your cell phone a text and call and leave a message from another cell phone and there will be no record of the receipt of the text or message from the other phone.

    2. We were doing some tests on Faraday boxes a while back. Wrapped a cell phone in tin foil pretty well, and made a phone call to it. It rang just fine. We then put the wrapped cell phone inside a Mylar metal enclosed bag and tried again. Phone rang the just fine. Then we put the metal wrapped, metal mylar enclosed cell phone inside a metal can with a tight fitting lid, and sealed it with metal tape. Finally the phone didn't ring. The lesson I learned is to turn off the cell phone and remove the battery, before storing it inside 3 layers of metal shielding, and you will still get robo calls from politicians looking for votes.

  6. my sister picked up a book in a small library to read and her phone immediately notified her of books from that same author.

  7. I am like Blue above. One thing that I discovered when I killed Sprint and went to a tracfone is that all of those gov. charges that you get hit with every month only get you once a year when you buy time by the year. Since they are about $10 dollars a month that means that you save $110 a year!! I never use over 100 min year and they will sell you 4 or 500 min for about $100 instead of $30 per month so that saves you an additional $260 a year or so. When the wife and I changed over we are saving over $700 a year.

  8. I, like Blue, also have an old fashioned flip. And I only got it when my son enlisted and then was deployed, I wanted to be in phone contact 24/7. He has since finished and is home now. I also have moved to an area that believe this or not has no cell service. I still use the old flip for that occasional "I'm on my way, do you need anything"? when I am traveling. I use only Tracfone and the phone sits plugged in and ready for that next trip.

  9. Wow this was rather eye-opening, only certain words can describe my feelings about many things technological, hate, loathe, despise, and abominate come to mind.

  10. I am almost to the point of rolling back to a flip phone. My phone is somewhat useful as a tool, but I don't know that it is worth the sacrifice of privacy and the cost of it.

    Oddly enough, I almost never use it to get or receive calls anymore....

  11. Smart phones are electronic leashes. And guess who is holding the other end of the leash.
    Montana Guy

  12. Want to make someone with a smartphone disappear? Suggest that they download Orwell's '1984'.
    Dock Guy

  13. Sorry to tell you this, but the monitoring is in everything. I have a Trac phone also.Even if I leave it in the car ads pop up on my Facebook page for stuff I just purchased at the store. I wonder if I used cash could they follow that trail? Just sayin.

  14. Our family was talking about visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. My phone was turned off in my purse. When I turned it on to do an Internet search, the term "Henry Doorly Zoo" was already there.
    I cover my phone's camera with a bandaid, just in case it wants to take a picture on its own.

  15. I have a smart phone. I almost never use it or carry it. I only use it when my wife and I are not together. For me the only purpose for a phone is to call 911 when I get chest pains or hit by a car. I don't text or tweet and don't want to. Don't call to chit chat but sometimes use the phone to schedule doctors appointments. The phone could be stone cold dumb and I would still be happy with it. I will admit that when out camping I use the phone to "tether" but that is the only geek thing I do with it.

  16. I read your blog with a smart phone😀