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'Our' Technology Inside the Home is Becoming Less Reliable and It Implements the Vision of Orwell's '1984' (Microphones and Cameras Inside Almost Every Room)

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Apr 13, 2024

Do Not Comply Sticker

Technology controlled by who exactly?

THIS is not a particularly controversial opinion or technical assessment. 'Modern' systems are in some ways - perhaps in many/most ways - worse than what they replace. I gave travel as an example a couple of days ago, but even inside one's own home things can get... "Orwellian".

This isn't even a matter of "smart home" (worthless gadgets everywhere) anymore; "spymeters" and "spyphones" aside, many of today's routers or pseudo-'landlines' contain a share of malicious features and they're difficult to turn down. People need access to the Net and to emergency services. The frog is being boiled. It does not know it yet.

Buzzwords and hype set aside, the technical details should matter. Back in the 1970s people asked questions like, "does your information system use bubble sort?" By the 1980s things were getting proprietary and people chose brands. Decision-making people inside ordinary businesses would ask questions like, "how much does it cost?" They hardly even knew what they were buying. They were no longer technical and proprietary systems are sold by catalogues (marketing). In the 1990s we started seeing the Web hype; towards the late 90s people asked, "does it run with Java or JavaScript in a browser?" In the 2000s they started calling the same stuff "SaaS" and then "CLOUD" with "APP". Since 2023 or thereabouts, as people were getting fed up with everything "on the cloud" (i.e. getting outsourced), they try to entertain us with useless (as in, no potent use cases) "GENERATIVE HEY HI" (G.A.I.) after failing to impress with "Web3", "AR", "metaverse" etc.

Let's examine what's around us in our lives and inside the home. Many have a whole computer with "WiFi" and some "APP" for various appliances. The appliances that lack these still exist and so do cars (we covered this issue in relation to cars some years ago). These appliances can be a lot more reliable because their functionality does not strongly/strictly depend on the integrity of some computer chip, network connectivity etc.

Small Car

Several times in recent months I complained that landlines were being replaced over here (lots of E-mail sent about this) and rapidly phased out. Without much consultation they switch off the copper lines, only to be replaced by something vastly less reliable which depends on power being up and Internet being up (and correctly configured). A month ago I heard the CyberShow making that very same argument; maybe they had heard what I said or maybe the same conclusions were independently reached. Probably the latter.

In the 1970s, when manual switchboards were being phased out already, people could ask, "does your telephone system work reliably?" By the 1980s: "what brand is it?" In the 1990s: "how long does your phone battery last?" Remember when mobile phones could run OK for weeks without charging? Before all that "SMART" hype? Since 2020 or thereabouts we've seen lots of online debate about how many bits of malware tap onto a phone's microphone and 2+ high-resolution cameras. After Pegasus revelations people begrudgingly realise they cannot trust 'their' phone; even relatives of high-profile people are targeted. The phone and camera can be remotely accessed at any time, not just by Google or Apple or the US government. The local government might be a client of NSO Group.

Satellite Dish CCTV Camera

This emergent issue is no longer limited to "modern" mobile phones. "There appears to be a huge push to get cameras or at least microphones onto each television, whether old or new," a friend tells me. As it turns out, an ISP has discontinued service for an old box and gave a new one which "the sales liar claimed was the same".

"It was Google Android with a microphone and had a Terms and Conditions which was scores of screens long. I did not agree, and the device is unusable without agreeing. IIRC forced consent like that is illegal in the EU. So we've boxed it up and will take it back. I will now have to waste time experimenting with Kodi."

In 2016 Wikileaks got evidence (published a year later in March) that the CIA was tapping onto these things and "even [onto] Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones."

Do we want TVs that watch the watchers and listen to everyone nearby, potentially all the time?

This was in the news a few days ago:

The issue is not limited to South Korean brands like Samsung and LG. It's becoming or has already become a "norm" of sorts.

1984 Nineteen Eighty Four Graffiti

Should we simply come to expect this to happen?

Sadly, organisations like the FSF, which definitely has capacity to talk about this issue, have said almost nothing. As we noted the other day, the FSF did not even mention three public talks by its own founder (RMS) in Italy this past week! RMS did speak about "smart" TVs, but the FSF barely has any written material about it. Devin Ulibarri left and there's still no word written or said about what IBM is doing to work around or violate the GPL. Does the FSF plan to bother with enforcement?

Well, "smart" TVs are part of a broader class of appliances that spy; to be clear, I don't have one, never had one, so I am not qualified to comment on pertinent details (my last TV was a CRT).

"It tries to get you to enter Google login credentials," a friend tells me, "and then your networking info and then all hell breaks loose and only then does it go to the license/terms and conditions. The new TVs in the store have cameras. Louis Rossmann has ranted a lot about how the TV software misbehaves."

CCTV Cameras In Operation

"Those LG televisions are using un-updated, stolen Linux. The illicit nature of their theft is part of the reason they are breached. If they had been above board, then there would most likely not have been a problem. Furthermore, most of those new TVs have microphones and an increasing number are burdened with active cameras. All these appliances are using stolen Linux and more, LF [Linux Foundation] is quiet on that."

Several years ago the OSI's co-founder Bruce Perens said that the “Linux Foundation is a [GPL] Infringer's Club.”

GPL enforcement against a TV maker was attempted by SFC and it is still work in progress. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues attacking the GPL under the guise of "AI" or "CoPilot" and it bribes the OSI to play along with these GPL violations (ironic given what Perens said). But that's a topic to be set aside for another day. The Microsoft-friendly Michael Larabel is choking on Microsoft PR (covering every minor bug fix release that only Microsoft will use anyway; the Microsofters love this). This "Azure Linux" thing from Microsoft is something along the lines of, "we own Linux. Spread the word." psydruid (in IRC) said that "Microsoftix [is] covering Azure Mariner", but it's worse, it is tacitly promoting it. Microsoft is trying to rebrand everything "Azure" and "AI" to fake growth in so-called "growth" areas, or "strategic" areas, and some "Linux" sites help this fraud. As it is not brand new, only the name/label is new, there's really nothing newsworthy here, they just announce it again, then Microsoft (and Michael Larabel) make a lot of noise about it.

There is a much bigger issue here. "RMS has been well and truly cancelled since even FSF does not announce his speaking events any more," an associate says. "Microsoft has succeeded in making FSF irrelevant (sadly) and (worse) getting the FSF to actively participate in its own decline."

Smart phone in hands

The FSF's blog barely publishes anything this year. Not even once a week (on average). There are many issues worth covering every day. They have many experts - vastly more than we have.

One thing I can comment on (and did comment on in the past) is how BT is forcing everyone to abandon landlines and move to digital VOIP phones. It does not matter if it runs BSD or Linux or Hurd or whatever if they can remotely turn those things into speaker mode always-on listening devices (usually 2 in each home, cordless too). Even though the router has no visible speaker or camera (not yet anyway) the ISP supplies equipment that has sensitive microphones (for speaker mode) and it is "free". As the CyberShow's Andy has pointed out, maybe partly inspired by Techrights, these phones are not good in a case of emergency as they depend on you having both Internet and power. As a reminder, the copper lines used to be enough 'juice' to power the "real" phones. And now? Sometimes the calls drop due to Internet disruptions and power going out (the battery in the phone you hold does not matter; the router needs energy too). Then what? How to phone the energy supplier??? Catch-22. You must have energy supply to phone the energy supplier.

Speaking to a friend, I now realise that in some places landlines aren't even a possibility anymore. "They already forced abandonment of the landline some years ago," a friend told me. "Lightning took ours out and they refused to even consider repairing it."

For the time being, on the upside (ending on a more positive note), avoiding spymeters is feasible, but only if you're willing to tolerate literally hundreds of nags in a decade (they phone you, they send you post about it, they E-mail you all the time). Thankfully here, with our energy supplier, more than a third of customers turned down spymeters after 10 years of constant nagging. Years ago they said there was a government "deadline" for moving to spymeters, but of course that was a lie (it didn't happen), as I insisted when they preached on the phone like there was a sense of urgency. Now a lot of these spymeters are becoming a national emergency because they're failing and because they can be remotely taken over by hostile nations.

Appliances that are "modern" or newer aren't always better. They ought to be judged based on criteria that include security, privacy, reliability, repairability etc. Not a list of so-called 'features'.

If enough people understand this and can explain this, more people will turn down spying devices disguised as a gateway to easier lifestyles. We need to create demand for devices that respect users, irrespective of how many features they offer. Resistance is still possible. If it does not prevent, at least it can delay.

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