It’s a Tracking Device, Not a Smartphone

I like to refer smartphones as voluntary tracking devices. Cellular technology provides your location to the network provide as a side effect. Smartphones can also leak your location through other means. But location isn’t the only type of information collected by smartphones. Android has a sordid reputation when it comes to data collection. Part of this is because Google’s primary business is collecting information to sell to advertisers. Another part is that handset manufacturers can bake additional data collection into their Android devices. Another part is that Android lacked granular application permissions until more recent versions, which allowed application developers to collect more information.

Apple on the other hand has enjoyed a much better reputation. Part of this is because Apple’s primary business model was selling hardware (now its primary business model is selling services). But Apple also invested a lot in securing its platform. iOS provided users more granular control over what applications could access earlier than Android. It also included a lot of privacy enhancements. However, Apple’s reputation isn’t as deserved as one might think. Research shows that iOS collects a lot of information:

“Both iOS and Google Android share data with Apple/Google on average every 4.5 [minutes],” a research paper published last week by Trinity College in Dublin says. “The ‘essential’ data collection is extensive, and likely at odds with reasonable user expectations.”

Much of this data collection takes place after the phone is first turned on, before the user logs into an Apple or Google account, and even when all optional data-sharing settings are disabled.

“Both iOS and Google Android transmit telemetry, despite the user explicitly opting out of this,” the paper adds. “However, Google collects a notably larger volume of handset data than Apple.”

I can’t say that this surprises me. Apple is a publicly traded company, which means its executives are beholden to share holders interested almost exclusively in increasing the price of their shares. That means Apple’s executives needs to constantly increase the company’s revenue. User information is incredibly valuable. Mark Zuckerberg made a multi-billion dollar company out of collective user information. So it was unrealistic to expect Apple to leave that kind of potential revenue on the table. Even if Apple isn’t currently selling the information, it can start at any time. Moreover, if it has the information, it can be obtained by state agents via a warrant.

This brings up an obvious question. What smartphone should individuals concerned about privacy get? Unfortunately, Android and iOS are the two biggest players in the smartphone market. They are also the only two players readily available to consumers who aren’t tech savvy. GrapheneOS is an example of an Android version that offers better privacy than the stock versions found on most devices. But using it requires buying a supported Pixel and flashing GrapheneOS to it yourself. There are also phones that run mainline Linux such as the PinePhone and Librem 5. The problem with those devices is the state of the available software. Mainline Linux distributions designed for those phones are still in development and likely won’t meet the needs of most consumers.

Right now the market looks grim if you want a smartphone, are concerned about privacy, and aren’t tech savvy enough to flash third-party firmware to your phone.

The Revolution Won’t Be Tweeted

Comparing the civil unrest at the Capitol to the 9/11 attacks seems to be the trendy thing to do. Doing so is idiotic, but most trendy things are. However, there is a noteworthy characteristic they share: they preceded crackdowns on heterodox ideas.

This crackdown has been more obvious because it follows the popularization of social media. We get to witness Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube ban users. The posts and videos made by politicians and orthodox thinkers calling for the suppression, oftentimes through violent means, of heterodox thinkers are shared far and wide. What makes it even worse is that there are quisling everywhere. Numerous people are bragging about having reported friends of family members to authorities and administrators for the crime of expressing wrongthink.

Social media sites have made it clear that they will not host heterodox ideas. The revolution won’t be tweeted. So what’s a heterodox thinker to do?

The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is establish additional means of contacting your fellow heterodox thinkers. Secure means of communication are preferable. My tribe and I have make extensive use of Signal and Element. But even e-mail is enough to notify your tribe that you were purged.

The second thing is tidy up your tribe. In an environment where friends and family members are bragging about selling each other out, it pays to raise some walls between your social circles. Take a page from the freedom fighter book and establish cells. Despite what social media encourages, not all of your friends have to know all of your other friends. Not every person with whom you sleep needs to meet your parents. It makes sense to separate your social circles into cells. Treat your family as one group. If you’re a Linux enthusiast, treat your Linux enthusiast friends as another group. If you’re also an anarchist, treat your anarchist friends as a third group. You may have friends who fall into multiple groups, which is fine. The purpose of tidying up your tribe isn’t to separate all of your friends from one another, it’s to separate those who ideologically opposes one another. Having family members is great. Having fellow anarchists is great. But some of your family members may be orthodox thinkers and thus ideologically oppose your heterodox thinking anarchist friends. If those family members know who your anarchist friends are, they may choose to report them (possibly to the authorities, possibly to the service administrators, or possibly to both).

The third thing is to establish appropriate long-term methods of communicating with your cells of friends. If your family are mostly orthodox thinkers then phone calls, standard text messages, e-mail, and even social media sites (if you haven’t already been banned) may be appropriate. Your Linux cell is likely more technologically savvy but still mostly on the up and up in the eyes of orthodox thinkers so tools like Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Discord may be appropriate. Your anarchist cell will be populated by heterodox thinkers so secure communications, preferably using decentralized and even more preferably self-hosted tools, will be appropriate.

The final thing only applies to cells with an external mission. You and your cell need to determine appropriate ways of publishing your propaganda. The more orthodox the thinking of a cell is, the easier this is. Your Linux cell is still mostly free to post its propaganda on social media sites. But your heterodox thinking cells need to put more effort into this. Anarchists, for example, can’t rely on social media platforms. They need to consider setting up self-hosted websites, establishing mailing lists, etc. Distributing local propaganda may require resorting to old-fashion pamphlets.

Mainstream acceptance of free expression ebbs and flows. We are currently in an ebb, but just because acceptance of free expression is moving back out to sea doesn’t mean it won’t return. It also doesn’t mean we can’t express ourselves. We just need to practice more caution and exercise more creativity.

Goodby Net Neutrality. Almost Everybody Awaits Your Return.

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission Fascist Communications Club (FCC) voted to strip Internet Service Providers (ISP) of their Title II status:

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to deregulate the broadband industry and eliminate net neutrality rules that prohibit Internet service providers from blocking and throttling Internet traffic.


Going forward, home Internet providers and mobile carriers will be bound not by strict net neutrality rules but by whatever promises they choose to make. ISPs will be allowed to block or throttle Internet traffic or offer priority to websites and online services in exchange for payment.

Based on the hysteria that followed the vote, I’m surprised that the Internet didn’t turn off immediately. Apparently Title II status was the only thing keeping the Internet going and without it the Internet is certain to die.

If you’re one of the people who is panicking over this, remember two things. First, Title II status was only granted to ISPs under the last administration, which means that the Internet thrived for a long time without it. The absence of Title II status isn’t going to kill the Internet. Second, the removal of Title II status from ISPs is temporary. As soon as the current administration is replaced with a new one the possibility of Title II status being restored will increase. As I’ve been saying throughout this debate the real problem is precisely the fact that the FCC has the power to grant to remove Title II status. Until that power is taken away from the FCC the battle for net neutrality will continue perpetually.

I also want to take a moment to dispel some myths that libertarians have allowed themselves to believe because this blog is in part about libertarianism. Many libertarians have been celebrating the FCC’s decision because they mistakenly believe that this is the removal of government regulation on the Internet. Removal of government regulation would be stripping the FCC of its power to arbitrarily decide whether or not ISPs have Title II status. The FCC voting one way or another is not an exercise in removing government regulation.

Another myth that libertarians have allowed themselves to believe is that this vote restores a free market, at least in part, to the Internet. After all, if your ISP starts throttling or blocking traffic you can just take your money elsewhere, right? Wrong. One of the reasons so many people are freaking out about the end of net neutrality is because a handful of ISPs hold monopolies or near monopolies in most areas. This lack of competition comes to us thanks to government regulations on the local, state, and federal levels. However, it must be acknowledged because few people can vote with their money if their ISP starts doing something they don’t like. There’s a reason Comcast is simultaneously one of the most hated companies in the United States and a thriving business.

TL;DR: Follow the wonderful words printed on every copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: don’t panic. At the same time, don’t celebrate either.

Floating Gitmos

The Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force have all had their share of major scandals in recent decades but the least known branch of the military, the Coast Guard, has been comparatively unscathed. Apparently the branch was jealous of its siblings because it decided to operate its own floating Guantanamo Bays:

Now, it turns out, there’s a secret US detention system in the War on Drugs, too — and this one is aboard US Coast Guard cutters sailing in the Pacific Ocean.

In an effort to staunch the flow of cocaine and other hard drugs from South America to Central America and points north, Coast Guard cutters have been deployed farther and farther from the shore in the Pacific Ocean. When these cutters capture a boat carrying drugs, the smugglers are brought onto the ships and kept shackled to the deck, sometimes outside in the elements, until the Coast Guard makes arrangements for them to be transported back to the US for trial.

Can you imagine the outrage that would occur if a foreign military captured an American citizen, held them without trail for an arbitrary length of time in inhumane conditions, and then shipped them off to their own country for a show trial? It wouldn’t go over well. But the United States can get away with doing so because it currently has enough military power that small Central and South American countries can’t do jack shit about it. And if one of those countries did try to free one of its kidnapped citizens, they would likely be declared pirates and quickly find their navy sitting at the bottom of their harbor.

One of the defining features of the United States has become its hypocrisy. It seems that the national motto has become, “Do as I say, not as I do.” While American politicians will flip their shit on C-SPAN when other countries build secret prisons and treat prisoners inhumanely, the country they’re supposed to be in charge of is doing the exact same thing.

If You’re Going To Spy On Us At Least Use The Data

Police have been in overdrive expanding their pervasive surveillance apparatus. They want camera, cell phone interceptor, and license plate scanner coverage throughout the country. Just to enjoy the privilege of driving we’re required to submit our personal information, including home address, to the Department of Motor Vehicles so it can print it on a piece of plastic that we have to hand a police when they pull us over so they can check if there are any outstanding warrants. I don’t approve of this widespread surveillance but I do ask that they at least use the data they collect to ensure they storm the correct house when they’re on one of their domestic dog hunting excursions:

Returning home from her Monday evening walk, Tama Colson rounded the corner into her subdivision and saw DeKalb County police cars.

Then she heard the gunshots — and her neighbors’ anguish.

“I hear Leah screaming, I see Chris walking out, ‘They just shot me, they just shot me, and they killed my dog’,” Colson said Tuesday. “So I got him to lay down, took my shirt off and rendered first aid. And Chris just kept saying, ‘Why did they shoot me? Why did they shoot my dog?’”

Those are the key questions in the fourth controversial police shooting in DeKalb County in less than two years — an incident in which, according to authorities, officers responding to a burglary call went to the wrong home, shot the unarmed homeowner, killed his dog and wounded one of their own.

Admittedly shooting two innocents and one violent criminal is a better ratio that the police usually walk away with in these situations. But shooting the homeowner and the dog was criminal and charges should be filed. I would say shooting the cop was, if nothing else, bad form but the police are supposed to help homeowners defend against invaders so the shooting officer was technically doing his job.

More importantly this entire mess shouldn’t have happened. There is no excuse for having both a pervasive surveillance apparatus and raiding the wrong address. When officers are sent on a domestic dog hunting excursion the address should be displayed on a very obvious map (one using small words and basic colors so the city’s finest can understand it). Upon arriving at the address a picture of the home should be sent back to headquarters and checked against photographs already in the database. Then the officers should check their cell phone interceptor to ensure the phone they have associated with the target is at the address.

Obviously I say this halfheartedly. I don’t believe the police should be spying on us. I’m merely illustrating just of how incompetent wrong address raids are when considering all of the data law enforcement agents have available to double check they have the right place.

Black Metal Friday

I didn’t get around to posting a Monday Metal this week so we’re going to celebrate the dismal day of people crushing one another in a consumer mosh pit to save $1.50 on a television with some appropriate metal. Welcome to Black Metal Friday. Obviously we’re going to start this shit off with some Immortal:

I’m also going to toss in some bonus Immortal related LULZ:

Every year I see footage of consumers stampeding into Wal-Mart like some kind of damned Mongolian horde. The only black metal band that can capture that image is Tengger Cavalry:

I’m also going to toss in some Bathory because why the fuck not:

Ventura Wins Lawsuit; I’m Still Unsure What the Point Was

My fine state is in the news again and, as usual, it’s not for good reasons. Jesse Ventura, one of the primary reasons my state gets in the news from time to time, filed a lawsuit against the estate of Chris Kyle for defamation. Yesterday the suit ended in Ventura’s favor and this has sparked some angry responses. Images like this one have been popping up on my various social media feeds:


The whole fallen heroes angle isn’t my thing and I’m not angry about the lawsuit. I’m mostly asking myself what the point of the suit was. While I understand that Ventura felt his reputation was harmed by Kyle’s claims the fact of the matter is the man is dead. That meant Ventura had to go after Kyle’s estate, which is headed by his widow.

Perhaps I’m just getting soft in my old age but if I believed somebody defamed me and they died I wouldn’t pursue any lawsuit against their estate. Why make family members who already suffered through a grieving period go through more suffering? They didn’t do anything. Arguments could be made that they profited off of their family member’s act of defamation but common decency would still prevent me from seeking a lawsuit against them for something a dead man said.

I’m not going to invest any time in bad mouthing Ventura. While I do understand that Kyle was very good at what he did I don’t know enough about his actions to know whether I should label him a hero or not. I reserve the status of hero for people who have done exceptionally great things such as saving thousands of lives or displaying incredible acts of mercy and I’m not sure if Kyle falls into those categories. But whether he was a hero of just a man who was very good at his job doesn’t matter to me in this regard. You should be free to seek restitution for any wrongs that even a hero may have done to you. But the lawsuit, in my opinion, was in bad taste.

United States Prohibiting Coursera from Accepting Syrians, Sudanese, Iranian, and Cuban Students

When it’s not bombing children in the Middle East the United Stats is busy finding other ways to make the people in that region, and Cuba, suffer. It’s latest strike against people it doesn’t approve of comes in the form of restricting their access to education. Coursera is an online classroom where students from all around the world can learn all sorts of wonderful new things. Well not all around the world. The United States has prohibited Corsera from teaching students in certain countries:

Dear All, I write this email under protest and with a considerable degree of anger and sadness. Few things illustrate the bone-headedness, short-sightedness, and sheer chauvinism of the political structure of the United States better than the extent to which its ideologues are willing to go to score cheap domestic political points with narrow interests in the pursuit of a sanctions regime that has clearly run its course.

You might remember the Apple ad from a few years back, in which the company proudly announced that their machines were now so powerful that they fell under export restrictions: “For the first time in history a personal computer has been classified as a weapon by the US government …”

Well, that was a tongue in cheek quip at their Wintel competitors, but a few years after that same company decided that also an iPad apparently could now a weapon, in a rather cowardly anticipatory cow-tow to an ever expanding and aggressive sanctions regime, when they stopped selling any of their products to anyone who happened to SPEAK Persian in their stores (the company has since lifted that idiotic policy):

But you will now be interested to hear that also my course (and anything else Coursera offers) has been classified, if not a weapon that could be misused, then at least a “service” and as such must not fall into the hands of anybody happening to live in the countries that the United States government doesn’t like. I have thus been informed that my students in Cuba, Syria, Sudan and my homeland will no longer be able to access this course. I leave it to you to ponder whether this course is indeed a weapon and if so against what and what possible benefit the average American citizen could possibly derive from restricting access to it.

Be this as it may, I invite those students affected to use services such as or VPN routers to circumvent these restrictions.

Let me reiterate that I am appalled at this decision. Please note that no-one at Coursera likely had a choice in this matter!

At any rate, rest assured that these are not the values of the University of Copenhagen, of its Faculty of Law, and most assuredly not mine!

Let me end on a personal note: as a recipient of a McCloy Scholarship created to foster trans-Atlantic friendship and as someone who spent some of his most formative years in the United States, I have to admit that I am worried about the path this country is descending to. Blocking teaching (and medicine) from people whose government one doesn’t like is a fallback into the darkest hours of the last century. As my teacher at MIT, Prof. Stephen Van Evera would have told the people responsible for this: your mothers would not be proud of you today.

Your instructor,

Prof. Dr. Ebrahim Afsah
Faculty of Law
University of Copenhagen

You have to love the United States government. It does everything it possibly can to make the people of countries it doesn’t like suffer. Between sanctions that prevent sanitary and medical supplies from improving the cleanliness and health of the average person to the bombing of wedding parties the United States is working 24/7 to inflict as much pain on the average Middle Easterner and Cuban as possible. Why would it does this you may ask? I’m not entirely sure. But I assume that much of its decision is fueled by its desire to extract natural resources from the region and extraction processes are easier when there’s nobody alive to resist your efforts.

Still, this is another disgusting act by a disgusting government.

Judge Rules Decryption Keys are Protected by the Fifth Amendment

Last month a federal magistrate in Wisconsin refused to order a suspect to decrypt his hard drive stating that such an order would violate the suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights. This week a federal judge ruled that such an order was, in fact, a violation of the Fifth Amendment:

A federal judge in Wisconsin today granted an emergency motion filed by Feldman’s attorney for additional time to establish that her client’s Fifth Amendment right to self-incrimination would be violated.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa lifted the threat of contempt of court and jail time, at least temporarily, and asked for additional briefs from Feldman’s attorney and Justice Department prosecutors. A hearing is likely to take place this fall.

What makes this case particularly interesting is that the suspect, Jeffrey Feldman, is accused of possessing child pornography. Possession of child pornography is one of those crimes that instigates such a strong emotional response in people that they demand due process being tossed out the window and any suspects be immediately burned at the stake. There are a lot of arguments being made trying to argue that ordering a suspect to decrypt his hard drive isn’t a violation of the Fifth Amendment because the crime, in this case, is so heinous. Such an attitude, in my opinion, is extremely short sighted because it sets a precedence that allows the state to justify ordering anybody accused of any crime to decrypt their hard drive or be found in contempt of court (for which the punishment is being locked in a cage until you comply, effectively indefinite detention without due process).

At some point I predict that determining whether or not the Fifth Amendment protects suspects from court orders demanding their decryption keys will reach the Supreme Court. Regardless of whether or not that happens one thing is for certain, encrypting your hard drive is the best way to protect yourself against snooping state agents who come into possession of your devices.

How the Iron Law of Prohibition Relates to Firearms

While I understand that the most zealous gun control advocates are unlikely to listen to me because they believe I’m a psychopathic murderer who wants to kill children I know that there are a lot of logical individuals who currently advocate for gun control because they believe it will lead to a safer society. This post is for the latter group. I recently came across an interesting post on the Ludwig von Mises Institute website discussing the effects of cannabis prohibition:

Super potent pot is not a market failure. It is simply the result of government prohibition. In fact, it is one of the best examples of the iron law of prohibition. When government enacts and enforces a prohibition it eliminates the free market which is then replaced by a black market. This typically changes everything about “the market.” It changes how the product is produced, how it is distributed and sold to consumers. It changes how the product is packaged and in particular, the product itself. The iron law of prohibition looks specifically at how prohibition makes drugs like alcohol and marijuana more potent. The key to the phenomenon is that law enforcement makes it more risky to make, sell, or consume the product. This encourages suppliers to concentrate the product to make it smaller and thus more potent. In this manner you get “more bang for the buck.”

During alcohol prohibition (1920-1933), alcohol consumption went from a beer, wine, and whiskey market to one of rotgut whiskey with little wine or beer available. The rotgut whiskey could be more than twice as potent of the normal whiskey that was produced both before and after prohibition. The product is then diluted at the point of consumption. During the 1920s all sorts of cocktails were invented to dilute the whiskey and to cover up for bad smells and tastes.

The iron law of prohibition states that “the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes.” When a substance is prohibited the sellers and buyers of that substance have a vested interest in delivering the most bang for buck because the more of that substance they possess the harder it is to conceal. Small amounts of cannabis can be concealed in film canisters, flashlights (just take out the batteries), cell phones (once again, remove the battery), and any other object that has a hallowed out space. Large amounts of cannabis cannot be concealed so easily and therefore detection by law enforcement becomes much easier.

While the iron law of prohibition relates to drug prohibitions I think it’s also applicable to other forms of prohibition. Let’s look at the type of firearms preferred by violent criminals:

New state stats show that firearms were responsible for more than 58% of the murders statewide last year — but the biggest problem was handguns.

Of the 769 homicides reported in 2011, 393 were the result of handguns. There were 16 deaths by shotgun, five by rifle, and 33 by an unknown “firearm-type,” the state Division of Criminal Justice Services reports.

The Department of Justice’s Guns Used in Crimes [PDF] report backs that claim:

Although most crime is not committed with guns, most gun crime is committed with handguns. pages 1 & 2

This makes sense when you consider the iron law of prohibition. Much like cannabis buyers and sellers, violent criminals, especially ones who are prohibited from possessing firearms, have a vested interest in firearms that can be concealed from law enforcement. Laws prohibiting individuals from lawfully carrying firearms didn’t discourage people from carrying firearms, it merely made the need to possess concealable firearms greater. The same can be said for prohibiting certain individuals from carrying firearms, they now seek firearms that can be easily concealed.

This brings up an interesting consequence of enacting even stricter gun control laws. What would happen if advocates of gun control were able to achieve their goals of a partial or complete prohibition against firearms? Firearm manufacturing and transfers wouldn’t stop, they would simply move underground (or further underground in the case currently prohibited firearm transfers). In addition to moving underground the demand for firearms that deliver more bang for their buck would increase. Firearms would likely become more potent by decreasing in size, becoming more difficult to detect, and, potentially, increasing in power. Resources would be invested in working around the prohibition by making firearms that are more difficult for law enforcement officers to detect.

As it currently stands the demand for difficult to detect firearms is relatively low. Those of us who carry a concealed firearm want one that is difficult for the average person to detect but we usually care little if our firearm is easy for law enforcement agents to detect. Resources are put into making concealable firearms but not undetectable firearms. Criminals tend to favor currently produced firearms because they are cheaper than developing alternatives (everything is subject cost-benefit analysis). Few criminals are going to invest the resources in producing more potent firearms when currently available firearms are good enough. That would likely change under a stronger or complete prohibition. Suddenly the investment in resources to develop very difficult to detect firearms would make sense.

Prohibitions have consequences. When alcohol was prohibited in the United States manufacturers began distilling extremely potent liquors to deliver more bang for buck. The current cannabis prohibition has resulted in a similar outcome, cannabis today is far more potent then it was before the prohibition. A firearm prohibition would likely result in the same outcome, firearms would become more difficult to detect and potentially more powerful. This is something that advocates of gun control should consider when asking themselves if a prohibition would actually lead to a safer society.