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TracFone. That went well …

So … after last week’s discussion about TracFone and whatever URGENT ACTION item it was doing such a lousy job explaining … problem solved.

Recap: All they were saying, without actually saying it, was that my 2G phones are about to become obsolete. The fact that they weren’t actually saying it, and the fact that any contact with TracFone other than buying and adding airtime is always painful threw me a bit.

But by Sunday, I had a nice little touchscreen 3G phone — $7! — that did everything my old phone did, but could also send and receive photos and had a virtual qwerty keyboard for texting. (This is why I turned down two kind offers for free phones; I really wanted that qwerty keyboard.) All set, thank you!

Not only that, but the process of transferring the old phone’s activation and minutes to the new was quick and easy. Five minutes on an automated call (no conversations with anybody in Mumbai). Two hours later … done.

Interestingly, I was also given the weekend’s use of a somewhat elderly Android smartphone: “Use it, play with it, break it if you like.” I’ve made calls and viewed photos on friends’ smartphones, but never cared to own one myself because they are such major wreckers of privacy.

But avoidance of smartphones puts me behind the curve when it comes to writing intelligently about them. So I was glad to mess around with one freely for a few days.

I hated a couple of major things, but loved a lot more.

Hated: The fact that Android — the “superior” phone OS that lives on something like four out of every five smartphones — is an even more naked Google Evil (TM) than I’d imagined. Fully half the phone’s functions seem designed to force the user onto Google, be identified, and give away any concept of personal privacy.

Appalling. First thing I did was hunt around and turn off geolocation and all the “helpful” report-to-Google functions. But I could see that without setting up a Google account and downloading apps, a person would be losing many of the advantages of having a smartphone.

Yet, oh my, the price of some of those supposed advantages! Even if there are workarounds. Who wants to spend their life engineering workarounds — and still never knowing how many other Google-designed or Google-approved data leaks you’re carrying around in your pocket?

Loved: The fact that, with a TracFone smartphone, airtime cards not only give “triple minutes” (as that 3G phone does), but in addition give triple number of texts and triple MBs of data. Wow. On my old 2G (double minutes) phone and the 3G phone, all texts and browser time come out of the “minutes” budget. So this is huge.

And there I sit with a backup phone that has well over 2,200 minutes on it … which would become 2,200 minutes, plus 2,200 texts, plus 2,200 MB of data if I picked up a $30 smartphone.

Oooooh, that’s gonna be hard to resist …


  1. UnReconstructed
    UnReconstructed May 24, 2016 12:50 pm

    Heh. I have a jailbroken iPhone.

    Yes, yes, I know. But it *is* jailbroken.

    Because its jailbroken, I can run apps that are not in Apples ‘store’.

    One of the apps I have spoofs the geolocation ‘phone home’ of the apps that you select to a location of your choice. I had it set to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in DC for the longest time.

    Of course, you need to exclude the navigation app……..

  2. jed
    jed May 24, 2016 12:59 pm

    I never wanted a Smartphone, but now that I have one, I wouldn’t go back. I don’t have a Google account. If I ever get one for the phone, I’ll do as a friend of mine does, and create one for just the phone. That isn’t a lot of help, but it’s better than using your Gmail/Blogger/othergoogleownedstuff account for everything you do on the web/phone.

    I do use my Amazon account on my phone. They have a pretty good app store. I also got a few things from but I can’t say that site is anywhere close to GooglePlay.

    The main thing that irritates me about a lot of the apps is how many un-needed permissions they seem to want. The Fdroid apps are far less intrusive in this respect.

    The other main downside to the smartphone is the security of the thing. Lots of phones out there don’t get updates after a certain lifetime. My current phone is in this boat – LG just isn’t pushing out new versions of Android for older hardware. Given how little I use it, I’m probably not very vulnerable, but I’d feel better with security fixes being available.

    I’m pondering upgrading. However, the latest crop of phones are all these brobdingnagian slabs. At least from what I can tell online. Might run down to the Sprint store and see if there’s anything they have which isn’t on the web site.

  3. jed
    jed May 24, 2016 1:13 pm

    And, my other beef is I have to ‘root’ my phone to get full control over it. I guess that’s a lot easier now than it was years ago, but really, something like sudo capability – would that be such a big thing, Google? It isn’t possible to do a complete backup without rooting your phone. Gawd! The notion of needing to do a backup on one’s phone? Where’s my rotary dial?

  4. Thomas Knapp
    Thomas Knapp May 24, 2016 2:27 pm

    I haven’t looked into it, but there’s a project called “Dark Android,” the whole point of which seems to be to free users from the kind of stuff you’re concerned about. I may check it out at some point.

    I’ve only had a smart phone (Android) for a couple of months myself, but now I wonder how I lived without it.

  5. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal May 24, 2016 3:00 pm

    I have an obsolete phone that isn’t a smart phone at all. It’s what I text on (and call, if forced).

    But I also have a smart TracFone someone got and decided they didn’t want and gave me. I have no minutes on it, and only use it with WiFi. it is still useful. I keep all the location stuff turned off, and it always nags me about that.

  6. Joe Mahoney
    Joe Mahoney May 24, 2016 3:35 pm

    I picked up a Motorola Motorola EX431G with physical qwerty keyboard from Tracfone. Triple Minute phone for just the texting and minimal calls. The phone was only $9 on Amazon.

  7. LarryArnold
    LarryArnold May 25, 2016 8:35 am

    [devil’s advocate]
    Back in the day (before 911) when you called fire/ambulance/police (you had to know their individual phone numbers) the first thing you were supposed to tell them was your location. That way if you were cut off, they could still send assistance.
    Then 911 got invented, which told what was now consolidated emergency services where you were. (Usually, unless you were on a PBX system, which told 911 where the system operator was.)
    Then cell phones came along. There followed a slew of situations where help was delayed, sometimes fatally, when the caller was lost/nonresponsive and a cell phone couldn’t be located.
    In one local case I remember the rancher told 911 he was “just off State Highway XX.” But because of the hills, and thus the tower his phone connected to, the neighboring county was notified, and they spent valuable time searching the wrong section of highway.
    In another case the phone was horizontally triangulated to a certain corner of a skyscraper, but responding paramedics had to search a bunch of floors before they found the caller.
    To solve that problem, all mobile phones now show geolocation.
    [/devil’s advocate]

    So by all means turn the feature off if you want your privacy, but don’t forget you did so when calling an emergency.

  8. Bear
    Bear May 25, 2016 8:38 am

    I get a fair number of computer tech support requests,I broke down and got an Android tablet/convertible so I’d know something about it (and be able to test web sites in mobile format). Freakin’ scary for privacy. The first thing I did was move Chome off the home screen and install the Android version of Pale Moon browser.

  9. parabarbarian
    parabarbarian May 25, 2016 10:33 am

    Check out D-vasive. I don’t have a smart phone but I do occasionally use a tablet. After putting D-vasive on a Fire 5 and seeing just how much control is given to apps, I am pretty certain I don’t want my life on a smart phone.

  10. steven
    steven May 25, 2016 10:55 am

    My android phone that doesn’t have any phone service. You don’t need phone service. I picked mine up for under ten bucks and use it as a mini tablet with wi-fi. I use it for: downloading and watching shows, MP3 player, games, basic web surfing, note taking, camera… My greatest surprise was how much I love reading ebooks on it. It’s so easy to hold and “flip” pages one-handed and since it’s backlighted it’s perfect for nighttime reading.

    You have basically two options. #1) Set up a junk google account and use the factory build that comes with it and just be conscious of the personal information you put out. #2) Root the phone. Android is a modified version of Linux and is as such open source and customizable. If you’re familiar with Linux you understand the root function. It’ll let you get rid of junk that comes preinstalled. “Jailbreaking” is techically different – it means to unlock your phone from it’s designated service provider.

  11. UnReconstructed
    UnReconstructed May 25, 2016 3:25 pm

    In the iworld, jailbreak means gain root access. Ios is a modified UNIX. Its called a ‘jailbreak’ because it opens up the software world to everything and anything, instead of being forced to use the offerings in Apples iStore (which do not offer firewalls, or anything else that Apple doesn’t approve of). Apple doesn’t want folks to have root access. Every time some enterprising group of folks finds an ‘exploit’ that allows someone to gain root access, Apple very quickly fixes the exploit and issues an update.

    It is absolutely appalling how many apps try to ‘phone home’ .

    In the iworld, unlocking your phone so you can use a different provider is called ‘unlocking the baseband’.

  12. Joel
    Joel May 25, 2016 3:50 pm

    Glad that worked out for you, Claire.

  13. Jim B.
    Jim B. May 26, 2016 11:09 pm

    I think I’m going to wait and get the iPhone. They’ve re-hired that guy that invented the PGP and some other security program.

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