When the Internet came into our lives I could not imagine all the many ways it would affect us. Right at the start there were some smart people who pointed out that alongside the positive benefits there would also be negative consequences.
However, nobody (including me) worried too much about that and even today in 2019 there is still a mainstream of people who give very little thought to the downside. Maybe they should read the latest Mark Elsberg thriller book ‘Zero’ where he takes some of the very real risks out there and weaves them into a story about how dangerous it can be when somebody takes hold of our personal data and makes use of them, removing any control we have over our lives. Did you ever think about what could happen to you if somebody was reading even a selection of the many messages you send every day?
On the one hand, we could put the careless attitude down to a normal human tendency not to take too seriously things which we don’t properly understand. On the other hand, it may just be an acceptance that with any new thing that comes along, there is always a ‘Wild West’ period at the beginning, before regulations and public education catch up. Of course it is also true that the politicians who ought to be taking an intelligent view on our behalf are either themselves ignorant or too busy lining their own pockets to care.
Unfortunately it turns out that making the Internet safe is much more difficult than was maybe expected. I have to agree with the comments Wayne and Joe made in one of their Ubuntu Touch audio-casts, when they asked how parents ought to teach proper online behavior to our own children when we ourselves are still trying to learn! If we are honest with ourselves, we should acknowledge that so-called unconscious negligence – not educating ourselves and not checking what our children are doing online – is quite enough to do untold damage to our children’s education and welfare. I would just add as a parent myself that this is not just some virtual trauma. It is all too real!
Despite all the potential pitfalls, the Internet is a great place to learn and be entertained. It can inspire and give space for new ideas and different perspectives.
But at the same time it brings dangers. Not all users and services are honest and well intentioned.
That is why we need to think about the risks and try to minimize them!
The best way to avoid all risks would be to avoid the Internet altogether but that would be the equivalent of only ever travelling by horse or bicycle.
Besides, you would miss access to lots of valuable information about the world and cut yourself off from all the learning opportunities which the Internet of today offers.
In any case, whatever you decide to do at home, you will still come into contact with it at school or work, so it would still make sense to learn ... And only a few short years ago we managed perfectly well without even knowing what the Internet was! You could limit usage to only some ‘necessities’ but if you restrict your family to what is certified 100% safe your children will be so insulated from the challenging things out there in the world that they will ironically be more vulnerable not less because they have never been placed in a situation where they have to learn difficult lessons. Falling out of a tree is the best way to learn that climbing trees requires some care!
Before I answer and try to explain I can hear some of you already saying that Ubuntu Touch does not offer a smartphone experience on a par with either Android or iOS smartphones.
My answer is this: some of what you call shortcomings are actually part of the point of Ubuntu Touch and express a very different design philosophy. I don't think providing an Android experience ought to be a major goal for Ubuntu Touch or similar projects such as those run by Purism or Pine64.
Instead, their goal should be to provide a great mobile experience which nevertheless respects your privacy and security.
Android or iOS will never set out to grant you maximum control over the maintenance of your privacy and freedom.
Their business models are based on maximizing their own commercial success. Any scope for customers to make decisions for themselves is incidental to those commercial objectives.
As a daily device I have a Nexus 5 running Ubuntu Touch. The incredible (original) BQ Aquaris E4.5 still works and that runs Development updates for testing. I am already finding that the OS helps me to protect my life on the Internet. What I will do in two associated articles is to set out a general guide for staying safe on the Internet and then to list the features built into Ubuntu Touch, which were included in it to provide for user safety.
Why is it so important to support this and similar Open Source projects, such as Halium and the cutting edge Purism and Pine64 phone projects ?
- Under the hood, the phones we currently port to have closed hardware components, an old version of the kernel and rely on some very basic hardware drivers which don’t benefit from proper updates. If there are security vulnerabilities in any of those, they are unlikely to be patched. With closed, proprietary elements we generally don’t even know about any vulnerabilities. Although it doesn’t relate to security, we experience frustrating problems with things like networking and cameras, for the same reasons.
- To speed up progress and remove obstacles, we need many more developers to be working on Halium. This is the project to build the Hardware Abstraction Layer software which supports GNU/Linux on mobile devices which originally came installed with Android. Having that layer assists in porting to new devices by providing a communication interface with the proprietary hardware drivers.
- We need projects like Purism Librem 5 phone and Pine64 PinePhone to succeed. This will become all the more important as Google’s new Fuchsia OS draws nearer. The locking down which that will achieve is likely to make all adaptation of Android devices for alternative operating systems either very much more difficult or almost impossible.
As you can see, to protect your privacy will need some basics steps:
a) following some simple secure Internet usage rules
b) taking an active interest in finding out more about the risks you are exposed to and passing the benefit of what you learn to those you care about
c) using software and hardware which have been designed with privacy protection hard wired, rather than designed to tie you into being fodder for a retail monopoly or (worse still) turn you into the commodity
Despite the focus above on safety, it is important to say that the user experience on Ubuntu Touch is not dull and primitive. It is very enjoyable to use and looks great. The swipe based architecture flows very naturally and is smooth, quick and very comfortable to use. I have not experienced anything as appealing in Android, iOS or even in the past on the old Windows mobile.
Give it a try and help us to help you in protecting your personal data and reclaiming your personal decision making over what others are allowed to access.
Authors: the Ubuntu Touch writers App Cats
Category: #Privacy on Internet