Monday, September 13, 2010

What I Want in My Next Cell Phone

Ok, I'm not quite a conspiracy nut, but, I do like my privacy. I want to know that, if I choose to store sensitive things on my cell phone - either in its memory or on an inserted memory card - I can know that the data is safe. I want it safe from pranksters. I want it safe from device thieves. I want it safe from curious law enforcement types that don't have a properly executed warrant. Given the litany of headlines, I think that I'm probably in greatest danger from "legal" abuse of my privacy than I am from people that don't have a badge.

A number of phones have the ability to remote-wipe data. Some phones also have the ability to set it up such that, if someone fails to guess the password some configurable number of times, the phone will auto-nuke. However, I haven't really seen any phone makers addressing the issue of someone simply ganking the memory card from your phone and reading it in another device. For that, you need to protect the data on the memory card, itself. Two possible options for that seem workable: encryption of the entire SD card (or a "partition" on it) using a cross-platform filesystem (e.g., ECryptFS); individual encryption of each file stored on the card (preferably including the ability to set this as the default storage option).

I'd also like to see a phone that I can use as a pure data device. At this stage of the game, it seems kind of pointless for smart phones to require a voice plan. Given a sufficiently sized data plan, a cell device with a good, native SIP application would obviate the need for a voice plan. It's all just data, any way. Why not go the next logical step. Hell, some carriers already give you the ability to use Skype, but it's typically crippled to prevent its use for "local calls". Other than to protect the voice-plan model, what the fuck is the point of that?

As a bonus of going "data-only", if the person I'm talking to and I are both using SIP devices, we can encrypt the channel if we want to. I'm sure there's plenty of businesses out there that would appreciate the corporate espionage deterrent such a capability would offer. Would also be nice to know that some info-thief out there can't just crack the local cell tower and sniff "interesting conversations." In the end, it's not that I have anything to hide, but it is the principle of things. It was always my understanding that privacy - the right to be secure in ones own possessions, property and communications - was one of the founding principals of my country. Reading headlines, lately, seems to indicate that, unless one goes to extra lengths to assert a desire for privacy, we no longer have "a reasonable expectation of privacy" when we participate in technology.

There's also some things that I don't really want in my next phone. When people know you have certain capabilities - whether you want to use them or not - there easily becomes the expectation that you'll use them. My phone is for my benefit. If it benefits others, that's nice, but it ain't why I'm buying myself a piece of technology.

For starters, I don't need to have two cameras or a video-phone application on my phone. The idea - and even the ability - to have video phones has been around for a long time. It's never taken off. I'd wager that a significant reason for this not happening, previously, is, in large part, due to the fact that, often times, it's nice to NOT have to worry what you look like when you're taking a phone call. You can be damned sure that if you wake my happy ass up at oh-dark-thirty, I ain't going to want to have a video chat. Fuck that. If I really want to face-time with you, I'll go to my computer and fire up Skype (or similar). Even better, I'll figure out where we can meet and talk face-to-face. Just assume that if I ain't standing in front of you, it's because I don't want a face-to-face (I'm not really a fan of the formal video teleconferencing stuff at work, either, so...). And, if I do, but geography's the issue, figure that I'll find some way that doesn't involve my handset. Besides, given the screen size on a practical handset, it's not like I'm going to be doing presentations. So, why have it and the expectation of its use?

I also don't really need the ability to stream or watch video. I have a widescreen HD TV in my living room for a reason: I like to actually be able to see things. Watching movies on a screen smaller than the display on my car's GPS just seems stupid.

Streaming music is one of those "iffy" things. As a stand-alone device, cell phones eat batteries quickly enough. Add in trying to treat it as a music outlet, and that battery's gonna die quick. I don't particularly want to not have my phone usable because I killed the batteries on music. It's part of why, when I was traveling and wanted music, I carried a cellphone and a music device, even though my phone had room for several GB of music. That said, it could be useful in my car: I could have the phone in a charger-dock, obviating the need for things like Sirius/XM and I wouldn't have to subject myself to the audio-crime that is broadcast radio.

Meh... In some ways, it seems like cell phones are becoming like office productivity software. There's really only so much useful stuff you can add to something before it becomes pointless featurism (this was always why I was a vi guy and not an EMACS guy). I can see the value of a lot of the convergence stuff, but I just don't get the utter lack of the personal security/privacy components.

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