Category Archives: Privacy

Kortrijk is watching you

The city of Kortrijk has plans to monitor visitors’ whereabouts in detail. The city will know, to within 10 metres, where you are, what you are doing and where you came from. And they want to capture as much information as they can get away with in order “to take tailor-made decisions” because “Measuring is knowing.”

My first thought, when I read this, was that it sounds like an awfully huge invasion of privacy to try and track a whole city’s worth of people to this level of detail. Of course, I shouldn’t have worried:

They just track smart phones.

I don’t know whether to facepalm or headdesk.

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Share the love

I love Free Software! Today is I love Free Software day, a day to acknowledge the effort of all the people that contribute to the software that we all rely on.

There is much that can be said about Free Software but it all comes down to one thing. When you use Free Software, you are in control of the applications that you use. This is something that I have increasingly come to value.

The more that we rely on software, the more important it is to know what our applications are doing and to be able to take control of those applications. Free Software empowers us to do this which makes it an increasingly important part of a free society.

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Removing crapware from the phone

After wasting my time last night, I realised where I’d gone wrong. It appears that the Google Apps Installer on the Fairphone installs the Google Apps as System Apps. So they can’t (easily) be removed and the factory reset does nothing to them.

So what I need to use is the /system/app mover and BusyBox to make the system apps into user apps.

I have tried this with iFixit and successfully removed the default version and upgraded to the F-Droid version.

Going through the actual Google apps will require a little more care and may take some time.

Update

Now I’m confused. I’ve just glanced at the phone and the Google Apps appear to have vanished. The only thing I can think is that, when I restarted the phone, some cleanup happened. But the apps are removed, which is what I was trying to achieve, even if I’m not entirely sure how I achieved it.

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Removing Google Apps from a Fairphone

One of the nice things about the Fairphone is that none of the Google Apps are installed by default. There is a widget that allows you to manually install them and, when I received my phone back in 2014 I hesitated briefly, then tapped it.

This means, of course, that if I want to scrape all of these apps off my phone, the easiest approach is to backup and reset.

It worked, but the results aren’t quite what I expected. I still see apps like the Play Store, Gmail and Google+ on my phone, which leaves me wondering what the Google Apps Installer actually installs. This also means that my phone is still a lot less Googly than I would like and I have simply managed to find the slow way of removing an account.

However, I went ahead and installed F-Droid and started searching for current apps or replacements. This was successful and F-Droid does have everything I want, and more more. The only quirk I encountered was with the iFixit app which was installed by default on the phone. F-Droid tells me there is an upgrade, which I can’t install without first removing the original app. And I can’t remove the original app.

The Fairphone 1 is rooted by default, so I should be able to remove this. But right now, it’s late and I’m going to bed.

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Unplugging

Yesterday was Data Protection Day, which seeks to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices. Data protection and online privacy are issues that I have tended to think about in the abstract. While I am aware that my online data is exposed, I have a hard time motivating myself to do anything serious about it.

However, with the current global direction of travel, I started to think about how much of my data is going through US servers and the obvious first point of concern is Google, particularly Gmail.

Although I have a few email accounts, for the past few years I have been using Gmail as my primary email — and as my email client. The Accounts and Import page make it very easy to set up Gmail to send and receive from all of my email accounts, allowing me to easily synchronise everything across everything. It’s damnably convenient, but a complete disaster from a privacy point of view.

So today I have unplugged every other email account from Gmail. I have also installed and configured Geary on my desktop and started playing around with the default email client on my phone.

It’s not as convenient as letting Google do all the synchronisation for me, but the effort is minimal and it does mean that all of my email is no longer being pushed through the same server.

I haven’t decided whether to keep my Gmail account. It’s handy to have, but not irreplaceable. I shall watch how my email traffic changes over time and decide later. I shall also have to look into calendaring services.

But first, I shall see about scraping the Google Apps off my phone. This should be reasonably straightforward — if all else fails I just need to do a factory reset. But I must remember to take a backup first.

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Quote of the Day: The inconvenience of convenience

The bright side of convenience is an attractive one: it promises us an easier life. Convenience, like pleasure, is an important component of a good life. If we didn’t choose convenience every now and again our lives would be hopelessly uncomfortable and inefficient.

But let’s not forget that convenience can also lead to undesirable paths – it can even kill. Convenience often leads us to to have sedentary lifestyles, support businesses that harm society, have unsatisfactory daily routines, to be uneducated, and politically apathetic.

It is inconvenient to only buy from socially responsible businesses, to exercise, to find new things to do, to keep well informed, to vote and protest when governments commit injustices. A good life demands a reasonable degree of struggle – the right balance between the ease of convenience and the benefits of meaningful efforts. Like pleasure, convenience has to be weighed against the price we are paying for it, and the short- and long-term consequences that might ensue.

Carissa Véliz

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Quote of the Day: Full-blown Stalinists

There is nothing more cowardly and corrupt than a lawbreaking political leader who threatens the free press when they call him to account.

Cory Doctorow on David Cameron’s threat to seek a court order against The Guardian if the paper doesn’t stop revealing the extent to which crimes have been carried out with the knowledge and approval of the highest levels of the US and UK government.

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Petition calling on EU leaders to stop mass surveillance

Via Boing Boing comes the news that a coalition of of European privacy, free speech and civil liberties groups have started a petition calling on EU leaders to stop governments from carrying out programs of mass, suspicionless, warrantless dragnet surveillance like Prism and Tempora.

Thanks to recent revelations we know that governments are using digital technology to monitor our emails, phone calls and the websites we visit. This is an attack on our freedom of speech and an invasion of our privacy. Tell Europe’s leaders to take action to stop the US, UK and other governments from carrying out mass surveillance.

Go sign it.

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