05.12.21

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Why I’m Using Just a Landline and Recalling My Richard Stallman (RMS) Interview on Working Locally or How the Signal Processor in Phones is a De Facto Back Door

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 10:44 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link

Summary: A longer-than-expected rant about what mobile phones have turned into and a look back at (or listen to) what Richard Stallman (RMS) told me way back in 2013

THE thing many people have dubbed “a phone” isn’t really a phone but an artificially-crippled computer that can — among many other things — make or receive calls.

The video above explain what I use (in 2021) instead of mobile phones. They’re rarely needed, except for few people with very particular occupations that require a lot of travel.

“The recording also mentioned torture whistleblower Craig Murray, who has just been arrested.”While recording this I recalled an old conversation that I had with Richard Stallman (RMS), whom I’ve been in touch with for many years. He has been observing technology for a lot longer than many of us. At around 4 minutes from the start of this old interview with RMS (TechBytes episode 84; very low quality, recorded over landline with a microphone next to it; direct download as Ogg; 00:14:31 in total duration; 8.2 MB in size) he mentioned FirefoxOS and OpenMoko. Later he also suggested using Replicant, if anything at all. The recording also mentioned torture whistleblower Craig Murray, who has just been arrested. Dark week…

The main point though is, it’s far too difficult to secure any mobile phone from privacy violations and therefore they’re rarely worth the trade-offs.

Download:

Ogg Theora

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3 Comments

  1. Canta said,

    May 12, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Gravatar

    I still use my 2013 FirefoxOS mobile phone. I don’t want to change it until I get something I can put Postmarket OS.

    I’ve always said “this is just a computer with a mobile network modem”, and was actually very pissed off that FSF didn’t had a stronger stance backing up FirefoxOS or Ubuntu Phone: they didn’t put “mobile OS” in their top ten of software needed until AFTER those two projects were canceled. And I asked RMS about that in… IDK, 2017 I guess… and he said “just use Replicant if you absolutely must use mobile phones”.

    Well… screw that. I want a proper GNU running in my mobile computer, not an android clone. FirefoxOS was a good alternative to me, as I considered their application model the right way to go: just put some html+css+javascript inside a zip file, and let the whole thing interact with whatever API the OS expose. Simple as that. No new languages, no “modern” bullshit, and most important no propietary software. Both RMS and the FSF let the thing die without resistance, and I’m still salty about that.

    Now, PostmarketOS targets mainline kernels. That’s better than FirefoxOS in terms of firmare freedom, so looks like a proper path to go. Yet, we still have the application layer, which is an absolute mess between distros. FirefoxOS solved that about a decade ago. I believe that approach should be reconsidered somehow.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Is a phone itself essential? I’d argue that the real campaigning the FSF should do… needs to question the mobile network/antennas, not which OS is connected to the grid.

  2. Canta said,

    May 18, 2021 at 12:42 pm

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    > Is a phone itself essential?

    Is a computer something essential?

    By itself, of course not, as humanity lived thousands of years without those things, and everything else in the world don’t seem to need it. Yet, here we are, fighting for the Free Software cause, as if software were somehow essential.

    The point is that we need context to answer something like that. And so let me give you some humble context from here:

    - A few weeks ago, a guy I briefly saw while doing my weekly shopping (mainly food, to stay in home the whole week), happened to later be diagnosed positive for COVID-19. So I followed the local protocols for COVID-19 contacts, and got an appointment for COVID-19 testing. The turn was scheduled by e-mail. Yet, once there, they tell me “you’ll get the results by sending a Whatsapp message”. Fast forward the scene, where I told about 6 different people that I don’t use Whatsapp and they didn’t believe me, and again and again asked me if I don’t have anyone close with Whatsapp (which I refused to accept as a solution), they wrote in my record details “he has no way to receive the results”. So, fortunately, in those cases, they just let you wait about 20 minutes and tell you the tests results (it was negative BTW).

    - Some months ago, the private health service I have assigned by my job, and which handles since a decade ago the health records from my wife, happened to implement a “no card” identification system. That means that I no longer have a plastic card to show wherever I go to check my health: doctors, laboratories, or pharmarcies. Instead of a plastic card, I’m supposed to install an app, that generates a volatile token, and I have to show that token to third parties. Of course, that’s not just an scandal for me by itself, but you can bet they also control the operating system: only Android and IOS mobile devices. So far, I’m able to use a “provisional” PDF file with the old card data.

    - About a month ago, the bank where I have my account since 2006, eliminated the use of the coordinates card (a plastic card with numbers in a grid, so they can ask me for certain numbers in precise positions as a 2FA mechanism for selected home-banking operations). Instead of the card, they tell me, now I have to use “a token”. Guess what: an “app”. Of course it’s not libre nor open source (so I can’t just replicate the logic in some GNU/Linux friendly script), and of course is mandatory, and of course “is better because is easy and secure” and other magical thinking stuff. So, when an old and sick familiar of mine (not COVID, just random cronic diseases) needed some money, I couldn’t add his account to my list of available destinations for transfers, as I don’t have “token”.

    - There’s a great vaccination proccess going on in Argentina right now. If you go check out some numbers, we’re in a pretty much amazing position in global vaccination rankings, given our devastated economy after 4 years of neoliberal goverment. Yet, every province has autonomy regarding vaccine application policies. Well, I bet you guessed it by now: “apps” again. And of course “app” means “android or ios”. Very, very few people is having and issue with it, because whoever doesn’t have a mobile phone just uses the one from somebody else, as we did when computers where expensive.

    - Did I mention 4 years of neoliberalism? That was from 2015 to 2019. You know what was one of the main “problems” the middle class had around here back in 2015? “I can’t change my phone, because they’re too expensive: fuck the goverment”. “I can’t buy an Iphone in this fucking third world country, fuck this protectionist policies”. And so on, and so on, and so on.

    Idiots? Maybe. But if we say in contexts like those “mobile phones are not important”, then I’m not so sure who’s being an idiot anymore. I’m REALLY angry against the FSF for doing SO LITTLE about this: I feel day after day left alone while battling against monsters (I have already schedulled meetings with my bank and health insurance legal representatives because I’m trying to fight this stuff, and also started to organize awareness). And I’m a privileged cis white man with a degree and profession in technology and a monthly sallary that can pay the bills for me and my wife, and even me have trouble for not having a god damn mobile phone with a fricking hegemonic operating system. Can you imagine what happen to people less resourceful than I am?

    So, yeah, Roy: mobile phones seems pretty much essential in a lot of contextes. That’s how culture work, even if we believe it’s pure noise and idiocy. The world is going to hell, and we’re letting a bunch of enterprises ride it: mobile phones are pretty much in the middle of all that.

    > I’d argue that the real campaigning the FSF should do… needs to question the mobile network/antennas, not which OS is connected to the grid.

    I’d argue both. Protocols are much, much more important than software implementing them. But if we want enterprises to stop doing whatever the hell thay want with technology, we need to start seriously discussing social infrastructure property and protocol enforcing policies, not just licences.

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