Vendor clickwrap bloatware

My nexus 5x has gone the way of all flesh (it now only works in the freezer). Being myself neither an ice road trucker nor a condensed matter physicist, I went hunting for the closest thing to a cheap stock android phone – android one.

Android one is a mostly-vanilla version of android for non-flagship devices. It is variously described as:

  • ‘pure’ (google)
  • ‘pure, secure’; ‘everything you want and nothing you don’t’ (nokia)
  • ‘unmodified’ (wikipedia)
  • stock (by various geeky industry pubs)

It’s marketed as a way to avoid ‘nonuninstallable bloatware’ and get fast-track security updates. Wanting to believe the hype, I picked up a nokia 3.1, turned it on, and found, to my legitimate surprise, nokia clickwrap and tracking software.

By tapping the button you agree to service terms. ... one-time device location will be sent to HMD Global. clickwrap
You must also provide us with certain personal details and other information. HMD Global will verify your email address ... A text message will be sent to HMD Global ... each time that you update your Nokia devices software. registration and termination

☝ click those if you prefer fuzzy screenshots. That’s just the second page – it’s a long document.

A couple of issues here:

  1. Big G has the market power to pull this shit but et tu nokia? You’re too old to wear this look.
  2. This is riddled with typos (‘Nokia devices software’ missing apostrophe, ‘Creating an HMD’ probably missing a word).
  3. Nothing about this experience is stock.

Are consumers just not privacy conscious?

I’m not even angry. I’m confused about how this happened. Someone at G is responsible for the android one brand and doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the device broke its promise before it finished booting.

My gripe here isn’t even about the amount of information shared, it’s about the number of companies that share it. One could argue that by using a G product I’ve implicitly agreed to have all my communication and behavior recklessly harvested and monetized. But (1) I hope we’re not there yet and (2) unlike FB, I’ve assumed google will at least keep confidential what they collect.

If G can’t understand this distinction, things are bad.

FB assumed people were okay with the sharing because their users stayed. IMO they stayed because some people read the fine print and some don’t and they seldom talk. But when cambridge analytica broke big it sent their brand into an irrecoverable tailspin. FB hasn’t learned their lesson; they’ll find a way to pollute their stepchildren instagram and whatsapp.

The real issue here is consumer platform choice

I think the real issue here is consumer choice AND that consumer choice is maximized when hardware and software are purchased separately.

‘Consumers don’t care’ isn’t the reason FB and G get away with eroding privacy and product quality an inch at a time. Rather:

  1. Consumers do care but they don’t always know
  2. Consumers need phones. And so we submit to daily abuse, from monopolists, which drives us to distraction every day, which we often hate but can’t put down because we need connectivity to get around, communicate, look things up and buy things.

There are no good options in the mobile OS space. Where good = cheap, private, lets me run a modicum of my own software, supports OSS apps and components, doesn’t force me to do anything (look at ads and notifications), doesn’t constantly pull the rug out from under me on tracking. I tried to buy the throwback nokia featurephone only to discover that it runs Yun OS, aka AliOS, aka a version of android that has been modified by a big chinese conglomerate. (Not stock).

This isn’t just about software either – hardware-software bundling leads to hardware that doesn’t last or to situations like apple throttling CPU when new OSs are installed on old models. I’ve beaten the heck out of two nexus 5s and they’re both going strong after 4 years. The new devices and OSs I’ve tried are strictly worse.

I’m not blaming anybody for this outcome, just making the point that we shouldn’t say ‘consumers must like it or they would take their business elsewhere’. There is no elsewhere.

I use plenty of f-droid apps and will be giving ubports a shot on my beloved nexus 5, but as mobile matures and the web slowly dies, I’m losing the ability to use commercial products without selling my soul.