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It actually began with that smartphone

Today’s earlier post actually began with me thinking about my new TracFones. Then it went off in its own direction, as these things tend to do.

I was disgruntled a month or so ago when TracFone cryptically failed-to-announce that my ancient 2G phones (EDC and backup) were about to become obsolete.

But I’m quite happy about it now. For one thing, once I had new phones in hand, the changeover was automated and easy — as few things are with TracFone. But beyond that, the phones are a pretty big leap past the old Motorola flip-phone whose numbers were getting worn into blurs despite my ardent phone-avoidance.

I got a 3G dumb phone ($7) for EDC, and while I’m miffed they took away my sudoku game and expect me to buy (with TracFone minutes) any games I get, I can now text with less cussing, thanks to a virtual QWERTY keyboard. (Sidenote: I do wonder when somebody’s finally going to abandon QWERTY, which hasn’t made much sense since typewriters went to typewriter heaven and makes no sense at all once you lay that word “virtual” in there.)

I ended up with a cheap Android smartphone for my backup and while the old backup just stayed in my fabulous, holds-everything, completely indestructible Maxpedition Versipack for months, the new one gets used.

Not a lot, mind you. I communicate on it only occasionally with one person, who loves her some phone tech. Mostly it’s kept charged up but turned off. But a few days a week, I spend 10 minutes doing a quick weather-and-news scan. Even if browsing is something I don’t want to get farther into, it’s nice to know I can do that without wifi, even if I’m out in the forest. It also takes way better pictures than the 2G, and for the first time I could actually send and receive pix via phone. Um, if I wanted to. Which, so far, I don’t.

But at least half of the phone’s functions remain inaccessible to me because they require — oh, eeeeevil, eeeeevil, eeeevil — a Google account. Tracking everything.

Yes, I could set up a Google account used only for this device. And of course I’ve disabled geolocation (though as LarryA says it would be a good idea to remember how to re-enable it in a pinch). But I don’t want Google tracking any of my life, at any time, without my explicit consent. Not even part time.

And if the fedgov landed on Microsoft for “antitrust” over a browser, then what do you call Google’s insistence on controling everything?*

No, no. I don’t think World’s-Biggest-Monopoly A should go after Upstart Junior Monopoly X. ‘Course not. I just wonder, in an academic sense, how a browser can constitute an antitrust violation while an entire operating system that directs users repeatedly and irrevocably to its maker for basic services fails to meet the same definition.

Do I want the government to “go after” Google? Not on your life. I’d just like to download some privacy apps, for heaven’s sake, without having to report my desire for privacy to Little Brother Google. I’d just like to play Sudoku or Bejewled on my phone. And I hope to heck somebody in the tattered remains of the free market soon makes such phone freedom both possible and affordable. TracFone-level affordable. If I then had to buy a whole lot of functionality, but could buy it from the vendors of my choice, including vendors whose respect for privacy was impeccable, I’d be happy.

And yes, I’m aware of “Dark Android” and “rooting” and other nerdly things you can do to improve this situation. But Dark Android is more for tablets than phones and all of that business is at nerd-level. For privacy’s sake, I’ve functioned at semi-nerd level with my computers (Linux, but the user-friendly kinds; proxies, PGP and GPG, etc.) for years. Eventually I’ll go there with phones if I must. But I’d prefer some more market-friendly solution.

We’ve come a long way since phones did nothing but convey voices. Too bad we’ve also come so far in the wrong direction.


* Controling everything except, of course, the browser. I’m sure we owe a big debt of thanks to the feds that now every smartphone has something just called “browser” or “Internet” even if it also has some proprietary browser. Now, about the entire rest of the operating system, and the app store (oh, excuse me, the Google Play Store), and …


  1. Jim B.
    Jim B. June 21, 2016 10:53 am

    This is quite a coincidence . As I just read this post of yours, I’ve just got an older iPhone today that I decided to go with, to replace my old Tracfone. It’s being charged right now and I’ll set it up with the Tracfone Sim kit I got for it tonite. We’ll see how it goes.

  2. jed
    jed June 21, 2016 1:58 pm

    You’ll have to find the setting for allowing install of “unknown sources”. You can probably download the apk to your computer, and transfer to your phone using a USB cable. Or, I guess, just browse the site directly with your phone. Or install the fdroid app. I haven’t installed the fdroid app; I just pull the apk files down on my PC and transfer to my phone from there.

  3. jed
    jed June 21, 2016 2:09 pm

    Multiple sodoku apps at Fdroid. A search for ‘bejeweled’ came up with Bushido Blocks.

  4. Claire
    Claire June 22, 2016 10:27 am

    Thanks for the Fdroid links, jed. Now I have to go hurt my brain finding out how to get past or around the Google Play Store. But you got me started.

  5. jed
    jed June 22, 2016 5:09 pm

    … then what do you call Google’s insistence on controling everything?

    I suppose most folks have seen this US News piece on Google. I don’t agree with the call for regulation, but I do wonder how one gets around that. Sure, there are other search engines. But there is no entity coming even close to that level of influence.

  6. amy
    amy June 24, 2016 12:27 pm

    There is an Android app called F-Droid (not from Google’s “Play store” but it has its own website where you can download an .apk. F-Droid is an open-source alternative to Google Play and you can download and install all sorts of open-source apps without Google or its tracking. Quite a few games, as well as a wide variety of other apps as well. Since F-Droid does not allow any adware none of these apps collect user data via embedded advertising, either.

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