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Google’s Android OS and the Internet

Dominant or dominating?

In today’s world, Internet is the backbone of most consumer and commercial appliances. Internet enabled mobile devices are touching every sphere of life, thanks to the availability of low cost devices in developing, under-developed markets. The advent of 4G cellular networks and introduction of budget 4G enabled Android devices has been a blessing for a lot of new users in last few years. It has offered them unprecedented access to the Internet. For a majority of users in developing and under-developed countries, their Android based smartphone with 3G/4G cellular modem is the only gateway to the Internet. Even in developed countries with ever emerging technologies in smartphones, these handheld Internet enabled devices are being reckoned on for almost everything that we do online like shopping, paying bills, renting movies, buying tickets etc. Mobile money apps are slowly replacing bank cards or plastic money.

The huge reliance on smartphone imposes a moral responsibility on cellphone manufacturers and operating system or firmware vendors to make Internet access safer by default. The only way we would have a safer Internet is to have a secure access to Internet. On a smartphone, what it essentially means is that we need to have a firmware or OS that is build with privacy in mind and technically enforces all the moral responsibilities.

According to IDC’s data from 20th Jan 2020, Android has a smartphone market share of more than 86%. It is clearly having a dominance over other platforms in the smartphone industry. Also, as per new data uploaded by StatCounter, Android is most used operating system to access Internet. It has left Microsoft Windows far behind in the race. If we believe the data shared by StatCounter, over 39.6% devices running Android have Internet access. It is undeniable fact that we live in a world of Android with most people using Internet on it. I think mobile computing platforms is the platform of choice for most users and netizens, thanks to the availability of devices in different variety and range.

Google’s Android is a dominant and key player in terms of Internet usages. It must take Internet safety seriously. It should aim to offer open and secure access to the Internet by default. In order to achieve a stratum of safety by default, we need to agree on open standards that works in uniformity across all the major platforms world-wide.

We hate to break it to you all Google Android lovers who excessively use Google’s proprietary apps that Google’s being dominant. It is not the big brother who cares. Nope. Instead it packs all the tools to track your activities, usages and indirectly sell it to serve you ads to earn revenue. There is a significant amount of force within Google that expunges all the apps in their Play Store that might hurt their ad-related business. Dominant Android is now dominating you and manufacturers that packs Google apps into their firmware to subjugate users by all means for revenue.

I am sure, you read a lot on how Google’s Android protects your privacy totally. But how much can you really trust a company that mines students’ browsing habits and related information on devices sold to school. I don’t know about you but I would not trust a single word from any one that cannot respect minors’ privacy. We talk about privacy and internet as universal fundamental right, this act of dominance is certainly not right. It is a shameful and disgusting to the very least.

Dominant Android is not just collecting application data, usages etc for ad-related revenue but it also makes it a lot difficult for an user who desires to opt-out. If this was not all, privacy loving Google is tracking your physical moves and even storing your location records in a database called Sensorvault. It was reported by The New York Times in April of 2019. This internal database is connected to a service called ‘Location History’ offered by Google Mobile services. Location history is something that you enable without even knowing it while using some of the features like traffic alerts in Google Maps. It can give you a detailed timeline of your travel and activities including precise details that you cannot recall from 5 years ago. Any intelligent individual let alone a cop or a detective can now figure out a user’s life and even predict a user’s schedule. And yes, it is being shared with law enforcement with minimum efforts in totally unacceptable manner with a lot of users suspected of a crime they have no idea about or are not even capable of. So, now your bed-ridden grandmother is a potential suspect of a stabbing that happened next door the other day. These requests that law enforcement make are new warrants called geo-fence or reverse location warrant. I am sure you presume this technology being in place for crimes of different magnitude but you would be shocked to learn that it has been used to identify a suspect who stole 650 USD worth of tires.

Internet safety on dominant and fastest growing Internet platform i.e. Android can only be achieved with a non-google privacy-oriented Android based OS. The problem with Google Apps is the business model of the web giant Google. Google is probably the first major tech company to understand the value of data. It truly treats your data as gold. It craves to mine data and has encroached every limit in the history of mankind as far as a private incorporation is concerned. Google services do not have the boundaries of a specific platform as their outreach covers their own competition i.e. iOS by Apple. Privacy and security cannot be looked separately on a mobile device that probably has the most private data on you. In wrong hands, it can make you not only make you a product to lucrative ad-related business but also a suspect who stole tires just because you physically had a device that shares data with Google. I shun any such device.

Internet safety is a serious responsibility that all the mobile operating system vendors, developers and companies must take as a challenge and not as a burden or for the sake of legal compliance. /e/OS aims to replace Google services and offers a clean Android OS experience that favors a user. It is an attempt to bring together the best free and open resources that are developed with strong community support. It is designed with privacy in mind. A set of apps, hosted services are packed together to provide a safer experience to an end user. It has been designed with regular user in mind unlike other previous attempts that focuses on pro Android users only.

For instance, the default browser unlike Chrome doesn’t share any data with any servers except for the resources or site you requested. Further, an ad-blocker and tracking protection is enabled by default. There is an App Store, which would let you download application without signing in. In the whole process of installing, configuring /e/OS on your device, you won’t be forced to sign up or sign in and keep it like that to use your device. Hence preventing any sort of data analysis.

Safer internet can only be achieved with proper code review, free/open licensing of code, strong community support and direct feedback channels. There is no silver bullet when it comes to internet safety. You have to be vigilant and cautious online. But, as far as your smartphone’s firmware or OS is concerned, there is a /e/OS. /e/OS is developed by a non-profit with community support and channels for discussion, feedback and much more. It has tremendous potential and room for real-time improvements in the code base to benefit users. Android is the dominant platform for internet access and /e/OS adds a lot of value to this free and open operating system by excluding Google apps and offering a ready to use ecosystem as a replacement. It is time to understand the difference between walled-gardens and real world security. Privacy is paramount and so is your safety. You cannot claim be safe online with a big mechanism spying on your moves with tools that most of us happen to turn on eventually. Revealing too much of data to a private incorporation can obviously put you in danger. e.foundation offers /e/OS pre-installed high end devices in whole of Europe. Why not consider one as your next gift for your loved one or yourself? It is a gift of privacy. Also, you won’t have to get investigated for stealing or stabbing for no reason. Stay safe!

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Manish Gehlot

I am a privacy, security, encryption and software freedom enthusiast. I am into VPNs, TLS security. Recently I also got into technical writings including guides.

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