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Why Purism is lying to you about its mission to create a libre phone: cellphones can't be secure

Submitted by reposter in freeAsInFreedom

You cannot create a mobile phone where you are not tracked. Even if every single piece of software in every component were 100% libre (which is actually illegal; some proprietary software is required), or if realistically you isolate the required proprietary software to have no access to any of your details or location, the phone networks can track you simply because of the way the cellular network is designed.

They use weasel words to dodge a point that I mentioned above:

We intend to invest time and money toward freeing any non-free firmware.

Yeah, I'm sure the will "invest time" into looking at the illegal possibility of replacing the code running on the modem, and then immediately reject it. Purism already has no credibility as it is. If they want to get any of that back, they need to start being frank and honest about this: they can supply a phone with a 100% libre OS, isolate the modem so it can't investigate or tamper with anything, and include a libre bootloader. This would be basically speaking unremarkable; the only reason it would be interesting is no mainstream company is doing it (or rather, none of them are doing it and telling their customers that they're doing it), and there's certainly no reason to limit such a simple thing to a $600 price point.

It's very likely that any such system will have no hardware graphics acceleration, no WiFi, and no Bluetooth; firmware blobs would need to be added for the wireless in most cases, and a proprietary driver for hardware acceleration in most cases. It's plausible (but not likely) that one or more of those issues may be resolved by a combination of choosing the right SoC and reverse-engineering. But given Purism's history, I doubt that will happen.

Overall, I don't think it would be any more wise to get over-excited about this project than it was to get over-excited about the laptops. I'm not opposed to the idea, but it's really not worth that much, and definitely not worth a $600 price tag.

https://shop.puri.sm/shop/

Comments

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4

TheLegendaryBirdMonster wrote

the modem is isolated, and afaik there is a hardware switch for it, so you can turn the tracking by cell-phone companies on/off.

4

Fossidarity wrote

It is quite expensive, but even then, isn't it a lot better alternative than a Google Ads- or an Apple-phone?

1

sudo wrote

Yeah, I'm sure the will "invest time" into looking at the illegal possibility of replacing the code running on the modem, and then immediately reject it.

Can you expand on this, OP? Why is it impossible/illegal to create a modem written with entirely libre software?

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buckE wrote

Yeah, I'm sure the will "invest time" into looking at the illegal possibility of replacing the code running on the modem, and then immediately reject it.

Why jump to that assumption? Let's wait and see if they do this well or not.

IIUC the benefits of Puri.SM's phone are (1) that it should not have a baseboard that you have no acontrol over and that has control over your whole system and (2) the default OS is a libre OS (or are there Bblobs?) and (3) it will easily run an OS that you install on it yourself (4) it will have hardware switches to deactivate the mic and camera(s).

Do correct me if these are not true. But that is what I thought when I read the web page.

1

edmund_the_destroyer wrote

Having your location tracked is a violation of privacy. But basically all other modern cell phones save the ones running Replicant and other Google-free Android forks have the wireless carrier, Google, Apple, or all three with remote root access to the device. That means your messages, phone calls, voice calls, app use, financial information (if you use it on your mobile device), etc... can be captured in addition to your location. There are even stories, I'm not sure if they're accurate, that the devices can be used to collect location and use the microphone and camera when the host operating system is powered off.

Purism has pledged that the device has an isolated cellular modem, and that there are hardware kill switches for the wireless and bluetooth, camera, microphone, and cellular modem.

Now $600 is a hefty sum. I agree with that criticism. But I don't think Purism is lying about what they're trying to do here or how secure the device will be.