This is an opinion piece by Anthony Feliciano, Bitcoin event organizer and consultant.
It’s no secret that we live in a state of mass surveillance. The technology created to help us be a more energy-efficient and productive society is now our greatest threat to our privacy and sovereign well-being. Take a look – from smart fridges to smart light bulbs, nanny cams to smart TVs, computers, Ring, Google Nest, Alexa and our smartphones are all capable of being used to spy on us, and this is that the list of equipment that is to do before leaving your home. They are all equipped with cameras, sensors and microphones that monitor and monitor our every movement, emotion and action. Many people will cite the Patriot Act, when the US government began spying on the communications of its own citizens, under the guise of “national security”.
This will be a series of two articles, starting with the article that explains “why” – why you should start formulating a withdrawal plan when it comes to your smartphone, especially if you are a Bitcoiner . The “why” does not necessarily apply to Bitcoiners alone, but to anyone looking to regain their privacy, such as journalists and/or people who live in oppressive regimes.
The second part will be the “how to” – I will provide you with tools and options to help you start your withdrawal journey while still being able to use Bitcoin.
How cellular service providers spy on us:
I’ll start with cellular service providers and talk about some of the tools available to them that are currently in use. You’ve probably heard some of these terms and tools before, but you might not know how they work. The important point to remember is that information captured from these tools may be subject to subpoena by attorneys or government agencies.
- Carrier-branded smartphones: These are phones that you “rent” from any carrier on a monthly payment plan. They come preloaded with a ton of carrier-branded apps and can’t be removed. Most apps are carrier-specific and log the data you enter into them as well as tracking other apps.
AT&T Secure Family and the Google Play app are two examples — “Find your family, control your child’s screen time and manage their phone usage.”
Key features include:
- This application may share data with third parties.
- This application may collect location and personal information.
- Data is encrypted in transit.
- Data cannot be deleted.
- Mobile operating system: A mobile operating system is the operating system used by your smartphone and looks like a version of Windows, macOS or Ubuntu on your personal computer. Today, the smartphone market is dominated by two players. Google and Apple. By accepting the “terms and conditions” of using Google or Apple services, we give them access to all aspects of our lives, both private and public. When people complain that Big Tech is spying on us, it’s really our fault since we don’t have to use any of these services.
*Note: I will discuss two projects to help Android users with their deactivation plan. Sorry Apple users, you’ll have to wait until it’s easier to jailbreak an iPhone.
- Apps: Too many of them are on our smartphones. When was the last time you downloaded an app that didn’t need access to all parts of your phone to work? Almost every app we download needs access to our contacts, phone, texts, photos, GPS location, etc. All this with a focus on “gathering insights for a better customer experience”. With the rise of malicious apps targeting cryptocurrency users, shouldn’t we pay more attention to the apps we install and the permissions granted to them, since we also have Bitcoin and LN apps that also reside on our phones?
- Trilateration:GPS. Our cell phones are constantly sending out signals seeking to receive “acknowledgment” signals from nearby cell towers. The more towers our smartphones connect with, the better the accuracy in locating your location within a few meters.
*Note: Not even turning off your GPS is foolproof. Indeed, our smartphones are always connected to nearby towers via the radio inside. It won’t determine your exact location, but just enough to provide the necessary information about where you are at any given time.
- SIM card swapping attacks: This is when a scammer is able to impersonate you (through social engineering) and calls your cell service provider to trick them into transferring your cell number to a SIM card in his possession. The goal is to receive unique access codes to your accounts. In Bitcoin terms, the targets here are usually centralized exchanges. This was the case when a scammer used a sim swap attack to receive a one-time code and withdraw the victim’s cryptocurrency. There are many other horror stories involving SIM card swapping attacks in an attempt to clean up someone’s crypto accounts.
- Stingrays: Physical material used by government agencies around the world. The premise behind the attack is that Stingrays work like “fake” cell towers by providing a stronger signal, so your smartphone thinks it’s talking to a nearby tower, when in fact, a agency operates as the man-in-the-middle, recording all data (text, calls and data) transmitted by the person of interest. The major problem with this, anyone who walks near the intended target also sees all of their information captured. The privacy of everyone nearby is at risk when this tactic is used.
- Rallies against social, political, or economic injustice: If there were even more examples of why you should use a burner phone or privacy-focused device for these events, it’s the Rally fallout Canadian truckers and the events of January 6, 2021. In the months following the events, governments worked with Big Tech to track down and arrest large numbers of people, simply by checking their social media feeds or subpoenas carrier cell phone records. These cell phone records were used to determine if you were near such protests in order to pursue individuals. I have to stress again, never bring your everyday phone to such a gathering. Always bring a spare phone that you can drop or destroy no matter what.
How to start withdrawing
To get started, head over to CalyxOS or GrapheneOS for some light reading. Both of these projects are similar in nature and offer an excellent alternative mobile operating system that is free from Google services and all the tracking included. Their respective websites contain a list of compatible devices and installation guides. Both projects have gained the most popularity among Bitcoiners. I’ll post links to apps I use for privacy as well as bitcoin and LN apps you can use in conjunction with a de-googled phone, so you can still use bitcoin without all the spying and tracking.
Privacy is a right we all need to remember, and not take it lightly or sacrifice it for convenience. Nothing is 100% secure and private unless you plan to live off the grid in the mountains. If your wife isn’t thrilled with this idea, at least start exploring a withdrawal plan when it comes to communications and bitcoin.
This is a guest post by Anthony Feliciano. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.