I feel like I should tell the story of my current geeky tech saga, and that I should do it here.
TLDR: I have been trying to de-Google my phone, and it has been a lesson in the penetrating evils of surveillance lockdown we inhabit.
It started because I've finally been reading Shoshana Zuboff's _The Age of Surveillance Capitalism_. I thought I could avoid the book, but when my anarchist uncle said I should read it, I dipped in, and became swept up in how she constructs the narrative of the rise of Google's rapacity for personal data. This made me fear my phone.
My phone's a second-hand Samsung, given to me by a #platformcoop founder because I needed it to try their app, because the carrier that still controlled my old phone neglected to update the Android version. This Samsung is locked down by another major US wireless carrier. Even then I would've preferred a phone that could run a fully open, private OS. But I took it because I don't believe in wasting hardware, and this friend asked my help.
By "fully open, private OS," I basically mean LineageOS, which is a distribution of the open-source core of Android with the Google-y surveillance stuff stripped out. Another, newer example of this is @gael's e.foundation, which is trying to make the obstacles I'm going to describe less insurmountable.
Why not just use iOS? Although it may be less surveillance-oriented than Android, Apple products are built on lockdown from the bottom up, with ridiculous central control. I like to have the freedom to run what I want, and to play around, a freedom that Apple has always resisted. The underlying platforms of our tech should not be for sale. They should not betray us. They should not be controllable by others without our real consent. Isn't this obvious?
So, I have two phones I could, in theory, use for such a free, private OS, a Motorola and a Samsung. I like both phones a lot—I mean, to the point of actual affection. But both were created by Samsung in cahoots with particular monopolistic US mobile providers, and as part of their nefarious deal with the manufacturer, the things are locked down tight. I've looked all over the internet. There is no non-questionable way to unlock the bootloader, which is necessary to change the OS.
This also means that I can't receive basic OS version and security updates on these phones, because the carriers don't bother sending out the upgrades. So these things, in addition to being Goog-watched, are generally security threats to me and my family.
So, as far as open, private platforms go, these phones are dead to the world. Unless their controlling companies unlock them somehow, there is no way to liberate them from their dangerous obsolescence. It's too bad, because they're perfectly good hardware, and I believe they believe particular respect because of the toil and pain and exploitation of the supply chains that, unfortunately, produced them. That blood should not be disposable.
Out of respect for such toil, too, I'd prefer to use a pre-used phone rather than a new one, preferably relatively inexpensive. It's no sacrifice whatsoever to use any reasonably top-end phone made since 2015 or so, and many of those seem available for less than $200.
So, I bought one on Ebay. Two, actually, because after I bought that one I wanted to try another with the idea that I'd return whichever one I liked less. They came in a few days, and both were beautiful when I opened them and turned them on (despite the bloatware of their default Android versions). What marvels people make these days!
But it turned out that one of them, contrary to what had been advertised, was a carrier-controlled model. Thus it was no good to me. So I started the conversion process with the other. I was excited. I'm into this sort of thing.
The instructions weren't simple. See here: https://wiki.lineageos.org/devices/payton/install. It's a bit complicated, but I'm probably a tick or two above the average tech user. I run Linux on my laptop and have another tablet that I've already succeeded in installing Lineage on; I use that for book-reading, with no addictive connectivity apps. (It's a lovely machine.) Point is, this wasn't my first OS-installing rodeo.
First I had to convince the manufacturer's website to let me unlock the bootloader. At first it resisted me, but finally it relented. I got the thing unlocked. I booted a "custom recovery," which is a program that allows you to wipe the phone's memory and replace it with something else. I did that, but somehow there was a glitch in installing the new LineageOS image. The phone turned off and wouldn't turn on again.
This, if you're not familiar with the terminology, is called a "brick." A hard-brick, to be precise. I bricked it. It's bricked. Meaning, the beautiful phone, with all its wonders, is no more useful (actually substantially less, because it would not be a good construction material) than a literal brick.
That particular brick is currently at a repair shop. Given they confusions evidenced by their utterances so far, I don't think they'll be able to do anything, but I'd love to be surprised.
Now, a bit too obsessively, I've tried to find a phone that actually would work. Something a) not horrible in terms of features and size and price, and b) not locked down by a vicious monopolistic carrier-manufacturer arrangement. This has been really hard. Most phones around us are lockboxes. It's not a thing most people realize—you couldn't liberate that thing if you tried.
On my local craigslist, on ebay, I keep asking sellers for the full model number, to see if it is another lockdown deal. It always is.
These companies could just as easily sell us machines that can be changed as we see fit. I've learned this running Linux on my laptop: Once you get going, it's quite awesome to be able to change out an OS every once and a while—try something new, get a bit of a facelift. And not just the prescribed version upgrade, but a pivot to another wacky community of developers. Another *philosophy* of computing. It's that comparative philosophy, really that the monopolies are holding us back from.
In addition to the choice not to be watched constantly, without disclosure or genuine consent.
This is not stealing. There should be a market for mods! Communities of developers trying new things! There can be. We see it now on desktop. But where surveillance monopoly is the business model, the possibilities of the technology don't matter.
A payton bricked when flashing?
There is still hope. A blankflash might work. (Yeah even for hard brick)
@Toboe yeah I saw that, and I asked the repair people if they could help with a blankflash and they were like what's that. I'm a bit exhausted.
@Toboe but it helps that you think it isn't crazy.
@ntnsndr sadly the only way to get full security updates is if the phone manufacturer is still providing them for the phone.
There are 2 monthly Android Security Patch levels(ASPL) eg. 1st June & 5th June
1st includes all #AOSP security updates, 5th includes device drivers and firmware updates.
Firmware has to be signed & thus can only be provided by the hardware- (system on chip (SoC), display, WiFi) manufacturer (eg. Qualcom etc.)
The #LineageOS ASPL is incorrect as many of their phones… 1/2
@ntnsndr …do not have security updates for firmware or drivers being released. Often, even if these are released they arent included in Lineage for a given device and its necessary to flash the stock device OS to get these updates, then reflash LineageOS
Its sad that its necessary to expect devices to become increasingly less secure as gradually more unpatchable publicly released vulnerabilities become available for them
Best that can be done is get a Pixel phone or Android One phone… 2/3
@dazinism Thanks for this—I stand corrected on that part. It still points so much to the need for a better system.
@ntnsndr …these get monthly updates for 3 years from launch.
Theres a new wave of privacy and security #AOSP forks that are available for some of these devices. Unlike lineage they offer full monthly security updates & the ability to relock the bootloader and have verified boot (a powerful android security feature Lineage and /e/ lack)
#CalyxOS supports the Pixel2 & Pixel3 phones, will soon support the Pixel 3a phones. Its also working on support for the Mi A2
@dazinism Goodness what a mess.
Pixel1 phones will stop getting full security updates late this year, so support will be dropped
Looking at used, lower budget end, I'd recommend to go for a Pixel2
or get a Mi A2 and run stock (or if you feel like playing, something like HavocOS ROM you find via XDA) until CalyxOS offers support
Alternatively iPhones have been getting full updates for 5+ years
Info on Android One
@dazinism What do you use?
I'm on something thats now a bit old, running LineageOS, likely will get a used Pixel2 or Mi A2 soon
Possibly even a new Pixel 3a - would be my first new phone for 10 years
I like the idea of keeping old hardware running. Wonder how often people are exploited due to old firmware & drivers, guess not great being open to this tho
Really like the focus/direction of Graphene and Calyx. Providing decent state of the art phones that respect their users. Something that I think is valuable
The pinephone is interesting but I guess it'll get similar driver and firmware support to Android devices
For an ethical choice could be worth waiting for the #Fairphone3
The FP2 had standard firmware/driver support time. If I'm not mistaken they've still been getting sold once updates for these finished
In a way buying a used phone with some support left (I guess max 2 years since launch) isnt ethically much better. Just helping finance the sellers next phone?
It would be really nice if another phone could get firmware/driver updates for as long as iPhones. Guess most likely from one of the big Android device makers. Somewhat against their interests as likely to sell less new devices. May make business sense for a top spec/price device?
Oh yeah, that Jolla phone case is a really nice thing.
Guess theres some agreement that a Xiaomi Mi A2 is a reasonable choice, pretty cheap used and still got 2 years support left
The Jolla1 has a Qualcomm 400 chipset (their low end chipset) I'd be very surprised, but would be interested to know, if Jolla got much more than 2 years of firmware & driver updates from Qualcomm. I'd also be surprised if anyone has been doing security updates for the drivers since then - its a surprising amount of specialist work, and as I understand it, even if they are open source, this pretty much never happens for phones. Firmware has to be from Qualcomm
@ntnsndr @gael thanks for this! Even as an experienced phone tinkerer who's used Cyanogen / LineageOS before, reading up on /e/ helped me discover apps like #deltachat . Can't wait until it supports OAuth2 login for Google Suite domaons! (yeah, need to move myself to a different provider eventually, too many other things to do)
Check out essential ph-1. Codename mata. Should be able to find a good deal on one. Easily unlockable, and lots of custom ROMs (many gapps-optional).
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