Saturday, 10 July 2010

Great privacy by design: Samsung’s Galaxy S

I don’t review mobile phones very often. This is because I don’t change my phone very often. In the past I’ve considered a mobile phone to be a device simply for making calls, sending texts, and responding to work emails. I haven’t previously been too interested in picking up anything else that’s available on the internet. Life has previously seemed too short, and I’ve thought that what I really wanted to do was get home and fire up a laptop. At home, the screen was so much larger, and I could surf the net for “free” subject of course to any fair use policy set by my internet service provider.

But the scales were lifted from my eyes when the very latest Samsung Galaxy S handset popped into my lap just a couple of days ago. I’ve seen the light(and the data speeds) - and I’m hooked.

But what about privacy? To what extent have I traded my ability to roam on the net, or to use location based services for social networking or business purposes, with the data behemoth that is Google? Who’s got the better deal?

Knowing what I do about the ability of companies to collect information about its users (regardless of whether it can identify those users and put a name to the fingers being used to key the device at any particular time) I am still convinced that I have the better part of the deal. The world is at my fingertips and if I want to confuse an eagle tracker all I have to do is change the equipment I am currently using – not that prohibitively expensive a deal, any more. If you can afford the iPad, I’m sure you can afford to change your mobile devices (and SIM cards) reasonably frequently, if you are seriously interested in covering your tracks.

But my knowledge of the ways mobile devices currently connect with the internet give me sufficient confidence that hardly anyone really knows what I’ve been up to anyway. They may know how much data the device has consumed over a given period, but I think they would be pushed to provide me with the granularity of information that my (fixed) internet service provider probably has about anyone who uses my account.

What did impress me was the fact that Samsung have realised that privacy is an issue for a significant proportion of their potential customer base, so they have tried hard to make life pretty transparent. They even explain how privacy settings can be managed in their (printed) operational manual. Instructions are given about
• Use my location: set the device to use your current location for Google services.
• Back up my settings: Back up and restore your device’s settings to the Google server.
• Factory data reset: Reset your settings to the factory default values.

What I do like is the icon which reminds me that my location is being tracked for various purposes, as if I want to remain private (or conserve the battery), I can turn that feature off.

Also, the device has a handy feature to lock SIM cards, and a nifty way of securing access to the handset itself.

There’s probably lots more to learn about the way the phone could be used to protect my privacy – and doubtless I’ll stumble across these in the next few days (or weeks).
First impressions are that it’s a great piece of kit – and it will be flying off the shelves when the word gets around as to just how good it is.

I’m now off to listen to the internet radio on the phone – picking the signal up from my WiFi connection indoors. All I’ll need to do is it turn on, tune it in and then hope the signal doesn’t drop out.

If, in the words of Timothy Leary, the PC was the LSD of the 1990s, then surely smart phones are the LSD of the current era.

So I’m quite proud to think of myself an advocate of the (mobile) cyberdelic counterculture.