The Watchers Are Watching

“For brands, following someone’s precise movements is key to understanding the “customer journey” — every step of the process from seeing an ad to buying a product. It’s the Holy Grail of advertising, one marketer said, the complete picture that connects all of our interests and online activity with our real-world actions.

Once they have the complete customer journey, companies know a lot about what we want, what we buy and what made us buy it. Other groups have begun to find ways to use it too. Political campaigns could analyze the interests and demographics of rally attendees and use that information to shape their messages to try to manipulate particular groups. Governments around the world could have a new tool to identify protestors.”

-Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel, “Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy.” The New York Times. December 19, 2019.

What could possibly go wrong?

Public Service Announcement: TV KILL

Step 1. Buy or own a phone with a built-in infrared transmitter.

My preferred choice, at the moment, is a Samsung Galaxy S5, which has a removable battery, support for the newest version of Android (Pie) via LineageOS, and can be bought from eBay for <$100.

Step 2. Install TV Kill.

The app sequentially goes through the off codes of all major TV models. It even has a mode to keep cycling repeatedly through the codes until you stop it.

Enjoy the silence, and you’re welcome.

Tracking Firm LocationSmart Leaked Location Data for Customers of All Major U.S. Mobile Carriers in Real Time Via Its Web Site

“A third-party firm leaking customer location information data [from all U.S. mobile telephone service providers in real-time] poses serious privacy and security risks for virtually all U.S. mobile customers (and perhaps beyond, although all my willing subjects were inside the United States).”

Brian Krebs, “Tracking Firm LocationSmart Leaked Location Data for Customers of All Major U.S. Mobile Carriers in Real Time Via Its Web Site.” KrebsonSecurity.com. May 17, 2017.

What could possibly go wrong?

Installing LineageOS on a Samsung Device

Updated: February 2020 using a Samsung S5 Qualcomm device.

LineageOS is an alternative operating system for your phone. It’s what Android looks like before the device manufacturers and phone carriers start adding software. Installing it is also an interesting exercise in how taking more control of technology often means taking more responsibility and risk.

Note: Installing alternative operating systems like LineageOS on your phone is a great way to learn more about how it works. You are going to make mistakes. You may brick your phone. If you are interested in attempting it, use an outdated phone you already have on the LineageOS list or get one from eBay to learn on (A Samsung S5 can be purchased for <$65). It’s okay to mess up, just don’t attempt it on a device that is important to you until you know what you are doing.

Installing LineageOS on your phone is relatively painless. The major difficulty is being careful about installing the right files for your device.

Note: If you are on Windows, Odin sounds easier to use than Heimdall. I didn’t use it, so I do not know if this is true. It is also software with unclear origins. User beware!

Download TWRP, LineageOS & OpenGAPPS

First, download TWRP (most recent file ending with *.img), LineageOS (nightly for the device) & OpenGAPPS (ARM, same version as LineageOS, pico) for your device. Follow the instructions on LineageOs and either put them on the root directory of your phone’s sdcard or keep them in your Download directory and sideload them.

To transfer to your sdcard, enable developer mode for your device (in my case, going to Settings, About Device, and tapping on Build Number 7 times) then select USB Debugging in developer options. You will then be able to connect your phone to your computer, agree to connect on your phone and use any file utility to transfer the three files transfer rather than ADB, the android debug bridge. ADB can be used to sideload files. more on that later.

USB Debugging needs to be enabled for the next step.

Install Heimdall

Install Heimdall: Try an apt-get install.

$ sudo apt-get install heimdall-flash

Then, check your version. Update: As of February 2020, Ubuntu installs v.1.4.2, which works as intended.

$ heimdall version

If you get v.1.4.1 (or if you cannot get Heimdall to work), try compiling from source. Previously, I could only got it to work by installing from source. Now, the repository files from Ubuntu work normally.

Install Heimdall From Source (if necessary)

$ sudo apt-get install build-essential cmake zlib1g-dev qt5-default libusb-1.0-0-dev libgl1-mesa-glx libgl1-mesa-dev 
$ mkdir ~/bin
$ cd bin
$ git clone https://gitlab.com/Benjamin-Dobell/Heimdall
$ mkdir -p Heimdall/build
$ cmake -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release ..
$ make
$ sudo cp bin/* /usr/local/bin 

If this doesn’t work or you don’t use linux, official instructions for your operating system can be found at the Heimdall site.

Install TWRP

$ heimdall-frontend

Turn off your device. Boot into download mode, on my device (SAMSUNG) download mode was started by holding down Volume Down, Home and Power. Then connect to your computer using the USB cable.SAMSUNG) download mode was started by holding down Volume Down, Home and Power. Then connect to your computer using the USB cable.

  1. Go to Utilities tab in the Heimdall frontend.
  2. Detect Device.
  3. You will see Download PIT, which stands for Partitions Information Tables. Go to Save As, indicate a location on your computer, then click Download.
  4. Go to Flash tab.
  5. In PIT category, click Browse and select PIT file you downloaded from device in step 3.
  6. Click Add button.
  7. For partition name select where you want to flash it. BE CAREFUL! If you flash it on wrong partition you can perma-brick device. For most devices, the recovery partition is RECOVERY.
  8. Go Browse for file and select twrp.img file you downloaded in step 1. In Session, check No Reboot.
  9. Click Start.
  10. When complete, disconnect device from the USB cable, pull the battery and immediately restart into recovery. On my device, you can boot into recovery by holding down Volume Up, Home and Power. If you don’t, your phone will likely write over the TWRP file you have flashed, and it will look like nothing has happened.

Install LineageOS

From here, it was straight-forward per the instructions on the LineageOS Installation Instructions for my device.

  1. Backup your device, so you can recover in the event you bork it.
  2. Wipe the Cache, System and Data partitions.
  3. Install LineageOS.zip first, then OpenGAPPS.zip (optional, but if OpenGAPPS is not there many apps might not work as expected, or at all) second.

Different devices require different instructions. For a Samsung Note 4 (non-official LineageOS ROM), LineageOS and OpenGAPPS could be installed from an sdcard. A Samsung S5 required sideloading the operating system using adb. Your best bet is to follow the official instructions.

When done, TWRP will ask you to reboot. If you side loaded the software, you’ll need to restart your device manually.

That’s it. Good luck!

The Father Of Mobile Computing Is Not Impressed

“…if you’ve done a good thing, you don’t keep on revving it and adding more epicycles onto a bad idea. We call this reinventing the flat tire…

…Papert had the great metaphor. He said, ‘Look if you want to learn French, don’t take it in fifth or sixth grade. Go to France, because everything that makes learning French reasonable, and everything that helps learning French, is in France. If you want to do it in the United States, make a France.'”

—Brian Merchant. “The Father of Mobile Computing is Not Impressed.” fastcompany.com. September 15, 2017.

Interesting throughout.