Recently I noticed how various apps on my mobile phone (all those with free messenger services on them) had not updated when I took my Blackberry Priv to be mended and used a legacy Blackberry Torch instead. This meant that to communicate with someone outside the United Kingdom I had to either pay 35p a text, £1.50 a minute or by email.
The United Kingdom now wields unprecedented surveillance powers experienced in any democracy, wrote the Verge on 29 November, 2016. The EU Referendum proved to be a useful distraction and the Labour Party’s strong objections to this never saw the light of day.
The mobile operating systems offered by Google, Apple and Microsoft, which account for nearly 99 per cent of sales today, were in less than 25 per cent of mobile devices sold at that time, says a recent blog post by WhatsApp which has decided to end its support to BlackBerry phones and those powered by Nokia’s Symbian OS by the end of this year.
The fully functioning 8 year old Blackberry Torch phone is no longer supported by the various messaging apps I used to communicate on, such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Skype and Twitter pretty much told me to sling my hook when I tried to login.
At first this looked like a ploy to get people to upgrade faster, when technological advances had plateaued and everyone was addicted to social media.
Friends have mentioned to me this year (2017) that their phones had stopped running Facebook Messenger. However, I could not find an article talking about Twitter withdrawing its support for older phones until after many hours reading through blogs.
Meanwhile, on an up to date phone with current apps, I can walk into a venue and, before I have even reached the bar, I will be asked by Facebook or Google if I could provide the opening hours “to help other people”. Surely they should ask the owners that? Is the ability to do this why older phones are becoming obsolete and people being forced to upgrade (despite the high costs of doing so and devices launched in this decade still being fully functional)? To know our location and be able to follow our social media activity?
Here is an article about Skype withdrawing support for out of date apps on older phones. Then Apple have provided the reason for cutting off users (including on my 2014 iPod Touch) for “increased performance” with the new 64 Bit Processor. The article concludes:
As developers like making their lives easier, with iOS 9, users may find their devices become obsolete faster as more apps no longer support them.
Articles also warned of Whatsapp withdrawing support for older devices (full list on Whatsapp’s page), including the Blackberry 10, Blackberry’s first Android device, launched in 2013, for which Whatsapp has pushed the date from the end of 2016 to 30 June 2017 for users to upgrade. This Independent article, written by Andrew Griffin published on 29 February 2016, seems oblivious to the recent developments, such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger not being accessible through a 2013 Android Blackberry device, shows how perhaps Blackberry, known for their responsive customer support, are being squeezed out. Even those who upgraded since 2015 are being recommended to buy a new phone:
BlackBerry sold 7 million phones in 2014 alone, meaning that at least tens of millions of phones will be affected by the decision.
It seems that the whole mobile handset manufacturing market is being taken over by Google, Apple and Microsoft, whereas known and trusted manufacturers Blackberry, Nokia (who want back in) and Samsung are being squeezed out? Whatsapp is pushing out Blackberry, Nokia, iOS and the recent development: Android out and their website says:
These platforms don’t offer the kind of capabilities we need to expand our app’s features in the future. If you use one of these affected mobile devices, we recommend upgrading to a newer OS version, or to a newer Android running OS 2.3.3+, iPhone running iOS 7+, or Windows Phone 8+ so that you can continue using WhatsApp.
Is this expansion of app features in the future for our benefit or for someone else? Articles such as this one from October 2016 in the Express are already drawing links between certain apps and privacy. This earlier article from 2015 in the Express suggests using Bleep instead to keep your communications away from government hands.
Messages you send over Whatsapp and other messaging apps are encrypted, therefore transported in binary code so they cannot be intercepted and read until they reach the intended recipient. However, it is your backup files that can be read by third parties. I will show how this allows the government to keep watch on people’s activity. This seems open to abuse and makes people vulnerable, while claiming to do the opposite.
See this video about the German government ordering the Facebook owned Whatsapp to stop storing user information.
The first Smart TVs are also being phased out, with apps for BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon becoming unavailable on the earliest Smart TVs that would have set the early adopters back a few bob. Business CRM system provider Salesforce is also withdrawing support.
Then the Internet is updating its encryption certificate, again, although it completed the last cycle of this as recently as 2013, moving Internet encryption from MD5 to the current “hash algorithm” known as SHA-1. Alex Stamos, Chief of Internet Security at Facebook’s blog links to a slightly more accessible blog from Cloudfare by Matthew Prince on 9 December 2015. Prince says:
The seemingly good news is that globally, SHA-2 is supported by at least 98.31% of browsers. Cutting 1.69% off the encrypted Internet may not seem like a lot, but it represents over 37 million people. That’s the equivalent of the population of California not having access to encryption unless they upgrade their devices. As SHA-2 only sites proliferate, if these users on SHA-1-only browsers try and access an encrypted site, they’ll see an error page that completely blocks their access.
Despite all these migrations,, for reasons given such better security, increased safety (despite users on legacy devices either being warned not to trust various sites or not being able to access them at all, which suggests less user security and safety), SHA-1 is not as vulnerable as it is made out to be. Upgrades may have slowed down because devices such as the iPhone 4 or the, Blackberry 10 (from 2013), Blackberry Torch seemed provide all the usage someone wants today,
There seems to be another hidden reason for withdrawing communication apps, messaging and social media as well as leaving people out of business software, their film viewing accounts and of various websites and sections of the Internet. This all seems to sudden to be for users’ benefits as people can now no longer communicate online for free with connections in other countries.
It is now worth mentioning that in the UK, unlike in EU parliament and in America, meetings can happen behind closed doors, without notes needing to record every meeting and what happens in them. Open to abuse, right?
Therefore, here is a summary of what this blog reveals so far, before we get to the main story.
- Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Skype and Twitter have withdrawn app support for people on “legacy” devices, even those launched as recently as 2013.
- The Internet has cut off approximately 37 million people worldwide when it makes updates, which leave people on older devices either with warnings to not trust websites or to not able to access them at all. The people most effected will be those who cannot afford or get hold of up to date phones or computers, which disproportionately effects those in oppressive regimes, dictatorships, war zones and those in first world countries on low incomes, elderly people, disabled people and the unemployed
- The Internet only last did such an update, which finished in 2013 to the current algorithm and no one was left behind. This update follows very swiftly and is leaving many people with access to social media, the Internet and free means of communication internationally.
- Trusted mobile phone manufacturers Blackberry and Nokia – both known for their partnership with customers to develop new handsets and their accessible customer service support are being squeezed out and new devices being developed by newer entrants to this market: Google, Microsoft and Apple, all three not known for their customer dialogue.
- If people did upgrade to stay connected, obsolete devices would have to go somewhere. What are the environmental concerns here?
And this is all to let the government try to catch the tiny percentage of wrongdoers by watching 6,500 people’s activity at a time through backdoors. We are not meant to know they are doing this or when we are being watched.
This article printed on 4 May 2017 by the Register shows how this may be happening:
In addition, comms providers will be required to make bulk surveillance possible by introducing systems that can provide real-time interception of 1 in 10,000 of its customers.
The process and the approach seem to be purposefully obscure. The rules come under Section 267(3)(i) of the Investigatory Powers Act – a one paragraph section that refers back to Section 253, which covers “Technical capability notices.”
Technical capability notices sound like demands to allow surveillance powers. The PDF leaked document called: “The Investigatory Powers (Technical Capability) Regulations 2017” puts this as paragraph one of schedule one for “relevant telecommunications operators”
To provide and maintain the capability to carry out the interception of communications or theobtaining of secondary data and disclose anything obtained under the warrant to the person towhom the warrant was addressed, or any person acting on that person’s behalf, within one working day, or such longer period as may be specified in the technical capability notice, of thetelecommunications operator being informed that the warrant has been issued.
Surely this is all completely the wrong way round? The very individuals the Investigatory Act surely wants to catch are those who will have worked out a means to communicate without being tracked like the rest of us, without Google or Facebook popping a message up suggesting we should be more community minded when we visit a venue by answering a short survey, providing opening times and upload a few photos.
Until someone posted this information on the Open Rights Group website, this was all being kept quite hush hush. If you want to have your say and contact the Home Office about this, you are in time. The deadline is 19 May 2017 and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Personally, I would say that this is very intrusive for the majority of the global population and leaves gaps to be hidden in by the very few individuals the government says it wants to watch. Surely people who don’t want their conversations to be intercepted can continue to use SIMS, disposable phones and now, thanks the Investigatory Powers (Technical Capabilities) Act 2017, they can use a decent up to date Android handset to do that on too. Perhaps one with an non-encrypted legacy map app to help them too.
I’ve really enjoyed the time-travel experience of using an older Blackberry. Facebook messages do not ping. I can’t be called without hearing it ring. I only get very relevant notifications and as I can really only get texts, mobile calls and email on the phone, I am enjoying the world going on around me once again.