Smartphone security is a civil rights issue

This is a thought provoking TED talk by Christopher Soghoian. Your smartphone is a civil rights issue talks about the two operating systems in the global smartphone market: iOS (made by Apple) and Android (made by Google). 

From a security standpoint Apple is far more secure – it encrypts all data stored on iPhones by default, and text messages sent from one Apple customer to another Apple customer are encrypted by default without the user having to take any actions.

However, most Android phones do not encrypt data by default, and the built-in text messaging app in Android does not use encryption. So it is much easier for government agencies, for example, to get data off an android phone.

Where does the civil rights issue come in?  Apple products dominate the high end of the market and protects data by default. Android is cheaper and dominates the middle / low end of the market and does not protect data. Soghoian argues that this has caused a “digital security divide”.

There is now increasingly a gap between the privacy and security of the rich, who can afford devices that secure their data by default, and of the poor, whose devices do very little to protect them by default…..This is actually a problem for our democracy. 

Modern social movements rely on technology — from Black Lives Matter to the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street. The organizers of these movements and the members of these movements increasingly communicate and coordinate with smartphones. And so, naturally governments that feel threatened by these movements will also target the organizers and their smartphones. Now, it’s quite possible that a future Martin Luther King or a Mandela or a Gandhi will have an iPhone and be protected from government surveillance. But chances are, they’ll probably have a cheap, $20 Android phone in their pocket.

As an afterthought Soghoian also suggests covering our phone web cam as a matter of course – to stop malicious software, easily purchased, which can take over the web cam, even without the light turning on!