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Proprietary malware → Mobiles

Malware in Mobile Devices


Nonfree (proprietary) software is very often malware (designed to mistreat the user). Nonfree software is controlled by its developers, which puts them in a position of power over the users; that is the basic injustice. The developers and manufacturers often exercise that power to the detriment of the users they ought to serve.

This typically takes the form of malicious functionalities.


Nearly all mobile phones do two grievous wrongs to their users: tracking their movements, and listening to their conversations. This is why we call them “Stalin's dream”.

The malware we list here is present in every phone, or in software that is not made by Apple or Google (including its subsidiaries). Malicious functionalities in mobile software released by Apple or Google are listed in dedicated pages, Apple's Operating Systems are Malware and Google's Software Is Malware respectively.

If you know of an example that ought to be in this page but isn't here, please write to <[email protected]> to inform us. Please include the URL of a trustworthy reference or two to serve as specific substantiation.

  • The phone network tracks the movements of each phone.

    This is inherent in the design of the phone network: as long as the phone is in communication with the network, there is no way to stop the network from recording its location. Many countries (including the US and the EU) require the network to store all these location data for months or years.

  • Almost every phone's communication processor has a universal back door which is often used to make a phone transmit all conversations it hears.

    The back door may take the form of bugs that have gone 20 years unfixed. The choice to leave the security holes in place is morally equivalent to writing a back door.

    The back door is in the “modem processor”, whose job is to communicate with the radio network. In most phones, the modem processor controls the microphone. In most phones it has the power to rewrite the software for the main processor too.

    A few phone models are specially designed so that the modem processor does not control the microphone, and so that it can't change the software in the main processor. They still have the back door, but at least it is unable to turn the phone unto a listening device.

    The universal back door is apparently also used to make phones transmit even when they are turned off. This means their movements are tracked, and may also make the listening feature work.

Back Doors

Deception

  • Many Android apps fool their users by asking them to decide what permissions to give the program, and then bypassing these permissions.

    The Android system is supposed to prevent data leaks by running apps in isolated sandboxes, but developers have found ways to access the data by other means, and there is nothing the user can do to stop them from doing so, since both the system and the apps are nonfree.

DRM

Digital restrictions management, or “DRM,” refers to functionalities designed to restrict what users can do with the data in their computers.

  • The Netflix Android app forces the use of Google DNS. This is one of the methods that Netflix uses to enforce the geolocation restrictions dictated by the movie studios.

Insecurity

These bugs are/were not intentional, so unlike the rest of the file they do not count as malware. We mention them to refute the supposition that prestigious proprietary software doesn't have grave bugs.

Interference

This section gives examples of mobile apps harassing or annoying the user, or causing trouble for the user. These actions are like sabotage but the word “sabotage” is too strong for them.

  • Samsung phones come preloaded with a version of the Facebook app that can't be deleted. Facebook claims this is a stub which doesn't do anything, but we have to take their word for it, and there is the permanent risk that the app will be activated by an automatic update.

    Preloading crapware along with a nonfree operating system is common practice, but by making the crapware undeletable, Facebook and Samsung (among others) are going one step further in their hijacking of users' devices.

Manipulation

  • The Femm “fertility” app is secretly a tool for propaganda by natalist Christians. It spreads distrust for contraception.

    It snoops on users, too, as you must expect from nonfree programs.

Sabotage

Surveillance

Jails

Jails are systems that impose censorship on application programs.

Tyrants

Tyrants are systems that reject any operating system not “authorized” by the manufacturer.

TOP

 [FSF logo] “The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a nonprofit with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom. We defend the rights of all software users.”

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