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.
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.
So, there we go. For now, I just have to accept this thing, to love being watched and being locked in and locked out.
@erlequin good point, the Nexus 5 does seem well supported. A bit on the old side, but decent.
@ntnsndr Maybe the crazy acting as POTS at the moment will achieve some more diversity. If I'd be an overseas manufacturer of phones I would think twice about committing to Google's version of Android. But wouldn't hold my breath...
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