Sunday, July 17, 2022

Privacy phone, part 3

I'm beginning to wonder if this whole "privacy phone" experiment is worth it. If you're not quite sure what I mean, here's the deal.

I'm looking for a cell phone that doesn't capture all my data and sell it to companies, who bombard me with emails, ad, and other nuisances. I'm not looking to go off the grid. I'm not looking to sneak around. I just want to use as much of what current technology offers without giving my data for others to sell. I will pay my way.

To achieve that goal, I need a phone that offers things I can use, that's easy to use, and that isn't always reporting back to the mothership (Apple or Google). I love using an iPhone. I don't like my data being shared by Apple. Now, Apple says they don't sell my data. So maybe I already have a privacy phone. If that's the case, why am I doing this whole experiment?

Well, there is more than just iOS. And there are iOS apps that sell data.

First, let's stay with iOS and take Apple at its word. My data is still getting out there. So how? If it's not Apple, it's the apps. Another recent report -- there are always reports, this is just one recent one -- indicates that many app developers keep coming up with loopholes to gather and share (sell) your data.

It’s common for app developers to embed SDKs to add features to their apps without having to build them from scratch, but these SDKs specifically were designed to send app user location data to brokers.

But experts and location data industry workers tell The Markup that the moves have been insufficient; there are plenty of loopholes in Apple’s and Google’s policies that allow location data to still be collected, even without using those SDKs.

“The challenge, and this is a challenge with data brokers in general, is that you’re playing whack-a-mole, where these companies have many different vectors through which they get people’s sensitive information,” Justin Sherman, a cyber policy fellow at the Duke Technology Policy Lab, said.

So how do I find apps that don't do that? With iOS, it's hard. That is a closed system with proprietary apps. There is no way to know. So what to do? Trust them? Go open source?

Open source apps are, well, open source. It's easier for the community -- that's you, me, and other users -- to find if an app is doing nefarious things.

That's where a non-IOS phone enters the picture. And that mean either Linux or Android.

I'm considering a Linux phone to test, but there are several "de-Googled" versions of Android available. That's what I've been trying.

Android is an open source OS. But Google's distribution is not. All of the data is reporting back to the mothership (Google servers). And Google sells your data.

These versions of Android I'm trying don't have Google Services. They have alternate services that allow many phones to work, but these services don't report the data. Now, from what I can tell, some apps won't work without Google Services. But most will (though they need an alternate service). And they offer open source apps.

There are still going to be some problems, of course, as not all apps will work. But, from what my research is showing, the apps that do work, plus open source alternatives, give the user a good experience.

So, I have a Teracube 2e phone running /e/OS (a version of Lineage OS). The problem I'm having is that I can't find a carrier that will work here. I've found T-Mobile carriers that will work, except that T-Mobile service at home is not good. I've tested the phone when traveling using a T-Mobile MVNO (mobile virtual network operator: a cheap carrier that rides a major carrier network). If I had good T-Mobile service at home, I'd be set. But, I don't. And Teracube 2e doesn't support Verizon. So, that means I need to find an MVNO that runs on AT&T.

Cricket does, and works on my Google Pixel 4a, but I can't place calls on the Teracube. Maybe it's the phone? Well, it works on a T-Mobile MVNO. And, it took a while to get Cricket to work on the Pixel, so Cricket works, but setup can be problematic.

I've tried Red Pocket, but that was the same thing. And it had issues with the Pixel, but I didn't want to put all that much time into it. I want something that works. So, now I've ordered a SIM from Good2Go (stylized as "good2go"). That's another AT&T-riding MVNO. I'm going to try all the ones I can before going with AT&T because of the cost. And yes, I know I'm wasting money on a month of service from crappy MVNOs. Well, crappy insofar as my phone is concerned.

I'm occasionally wondering how I got down this privacy phone rabbit hole. And it was because I was reacquainted with Linux after setting up a Raspberry Pi as a streaming server. But this privacy phone monster has taken on a life of its own. But, I'm still able to enjoy my Streaming Life, and as long as it doesn't interfere with that, I'll stick with it. Maybe that's why it's taking so long. If I focused on it, I may have it solved quickly. But no, I'm taking it slow. I have some streaming television to watch. And I think I'll go do that now.

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