Tag Archives: data privacy

/e/ : A user Data Privacy respecting operating system

A lot has been written and discussed in the media about the unwelcome intrusion by big business houses into our private lives. Details about the Facebook data sharing scandal with Cambridge Analytic or leaks about the way Google has been ‘Googling’ our personal information and sharing it with its business partners are on news channels everywhere. If you have ever browsed to purchase a product on the internet, then you would have observed subtle hints of this intrusion in action. For days after you would be seeing advertisements from companies selling products similar to the one you were browsing. This happens when your browsing behavior is captured and shared with business houses. These business houses now attempt to coax you into buying their products which are of a similar kind. Welcome to the world of zero data privacy!

To understand the situation better, have a look at your smart phone and the applications you use on a daily basis. On android phones, almost every second application is in some way connected to Google. Gmail, Google maps, Google Assistant, Google Drive the list is endless. When you install these apps they ask you for your permission to access your contacts, your text messages, files, folders, images etc. While on the face these requests may look harmless, take some time and think about the issue seriously. What if the product or service you had browsed was of a personal nature? That information in the hands of a stranger could be dangerous for you in the long run. This pilfering of your personal data is happening through your smartphones and computers every single day, every minute. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon everyone has a finger in this pie. What is even worse is that they are making billions out of your personal information! So now that I have scared you enough you might be wondering if there is a way out of this mess? Do not worry help is just round the corner.

gael-with-eelo

Introducing /e/. /e/ is the brain child of Gaël Duval – the man behind the popular linux distribution – Mandrake Linux. The popular Linux OS is still remembered for its extremely user friendly interface and smooth and efficient functioning. It helped introduce millions to linux. After moving out of mandrake Linux which was renamed to Mandriva in 2006 Gael was the Chairman and Chief Technology Officer at Ulteo. The company is bought by AZNetwork group in 2015.In 2016, he co-founded NFactory.io, an incubator-accelerator of “startups.

The rampant ‘data pilfering’ on smartphone devices by Google and Apple set Gaël thinking. The result was a series of three articles ‘Leaving Apple & Google: my eelo odyssey’. In these articles he announced his intention to come out with an alternate platform for devices. An operating system which would respect the individual and value his right to privacy. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the idea was launched. People from around the world contributed. This was a clear indication that the concept had popular support, all that it lacked was a clear direction.
Gaël has come out with a mission which declares the following as its objectives:

  • We make available independent and open source IT infrastructure products & services, with an emphasis on respect for user data privacy, for the benefit of all.
  • We think that /e/ can have a global, worldwide impact as a major open source project in the public interest. It will help by freeing users from personal data spying and advertising.
  • /e/ is about freedom and privacy in the digital world.

A copy of the manifest is attached below:

e manifesto

To set the record straight, Gaël’s team is not writing the code from scratch. It has picked up a branch from the Lineage code base and has started with it. The lineage code base is a free open source operating system based on the android platform which caters to smartphones and tablets. The code is accessible through GitHub. At present /e/ has a team of about fifteen developers working full time under the direction and guidance of Gaël developing the first release of the operating system. Gaël’s team is currently working on various elements in the operating system which he insists would have a great UI. Those who have used Mandriva earlier can definitely look forward to Gaël delivering on that promise! Various third party applications are currently being integrated . The base OS would have a “reasonable minimum” set of application to begin with. The idea being that a user could always add more applications as per his or her requirement. There would be no forceful installation of applications that sit there unused taking up space and sending back the users personal information!

The team target to release their first beta version of the OS by August end of 2018. The next step would be the opening up of the source code repository. This should be the trigger for developers from around the world to pitch in and add their code as well. Version 1.0 of /e/ is targeted for the end of 2018 or early 2019.

/e/ has come out with a road map for its development activities

  • June 2018: early access to /e/ email for /e/ backers
  • July 2018: early access to /e/ drive for /e/ backers
  • August 2018: /e/ OS beta (MVP) release with several web services (search, app store)
  • September 2018: /e/ OS source code release on /e/ GitLab
  • September 2018: /e/ email and drive open to more users
  • October 2018: smartphones with /e/ OS start shipping to /e/ backers
  • January 2019: smartphones with /e/ OS start selling
/e/ road map

For more information about /e/ go to the web site.

To read more about Gaël Duval

To contribute to /e/ financially

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Announcing the birth of a mobile OS!!!

Logo of /e/ ROM currently in beta

There is a new operating system (OS) for smart phones in town. This new OS, currently in its beta version, goes by the name / e /. Project / e / is the brain child of Gaël Duval – the

A photo of Gaël Duval - the brain behind /e/

man who in a previous avatar scripted the popular Mandrake Linux Operating system.

The project team uses / e / as a temporary placeholder name while the product is in beta. The name for the finished product is yet to be announced.

What is a mobile OS?
To the uninitiated, a mobile OS is the soul behind your smart phone. The brain that runs the hardware. The hardware or the parts of a mobile that you get to touch and hold are the brawn part on your phone.

Who are the current players in the Mobile OS world?

Currently we have two major players in the Mobile OS market. Android (read Google) and iOS (read Apple). Between them they dominate the market. Check out the latest statistics as published by Gartner.

GartnerOSPercentages

Look at the figures for the 2nd quarter of 2018 or the numbers under the column heading 2Q18 Market Share (%).
The numbers show Google’s Android having an 88% share of the world smart phone market. The remaining 11.9 % is with Apple with its IOS. Now look at the numbers for the other OS’s….as expected the numbers are 0.0!!!!

What do these numbers mean?
The numbers mean that the world and we the end users are directly controlled by these two giant organizations viz Google and Apple. Also involved in filtering our web experience are organizations like Microsoft and Amazon.
The smart phone is now an essential part of our lives. From the minute we wake up to the sound alarm on our phones to the minute we go off to sleep after checking check our phones, our phones are our constant companions.

We use phones to check emails, read the news, chat, talk, take photos…. the list goes on and on. Apps like Facebook, Whats app and twitter have become a part of our vocabulary and lives. These social media accounts keep us in sync with our friends and foes from around the world.

While we are busy using these apps, what we do not realize is that we are also leaving a digital footprint behind us. Details of what we have typed, chatted, uploaded or downloaded are saved on servers at these organization. For example Gmail owns your email data and reads what ever you type. How else do we have auto complete and suggestions popping up while we are still typing out the sentences? While these organizations deny this manipulate it is common knowledge that a major source of their revenue is through selective exposure of our data to third party businesses. Ever wondered how ads from Amazon or Flipkart show up on the sidelines of you web pages, vending products you browsed couple of days back? That happens because browsers save our surfing history and then that data is used by these companies to makes sales pitches. Welcome to the world of targeted advertising! All this is done in the name of facilitating a smooth browsing and purchasing experience!
This is where / e / comes in. The idea behind Gaël Duval’s OS was to seal this data pilferage from the mobile OS. Changes are made at the code level and applications made more secure. The idea to is to prevent leakage of our data be if personal or browsing history.

What / e / brings to the table

In its current beta version the OS is forked from the Lineage OS 14.1. To explain further lineage OS is a free open source operating system for smartphones and tablet computers. It is based on the android source code. The current beta version of / e / is based on Nougat. Android has come out with Oreo and Pie two upgrades after Nougat. Development for the upgrade to Oreo or Lineage 15.1 is on at / e /.

Devices supported in the current version of / e /

There are about 25 plus phones which have ROM’s in the beta version. As mentioned before development for devices which work on oreo or Lineage 15.1 is underway and expected to be released soon.

A few screenshots of phones running / e / are given below

Main screen of /e/ ROM
Settings Page of /e/ ROM
eAppSuggestionScreen

For more details on the project take a look at the following sites

/ e / Web site : https://e.foundation/

/ e / forum : https://community.e.foundation/

Read about Gaël Duval https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ga%C3%ABl_Duval

Understand what Targeted Advertising is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targeted_advertising

To check on the availability of devices and how to install them on your phone check out the web page here:

Interested in building the OS… well check out the details here https://gitlab.e.foundation/e/wiki/en/wikis/build

What Data Privacy is and why is it important

The purpose of this article is to explain what Data Privacy is and why is it important in layman’s terms. Of late most of us have seen a spurt of emails with the subject line mentioning updates to Data privacy policy. In my case the first one came from Xiaomi – since I own a phone of theirs, then another mail came from Google and now I see even my website hosting provider has issued one!

If you watch the news, you must have seen the videos of Mark Zuckerberg the founder of Facebook appearing before a committee of the US Senate last month. The events that led to this senate hearing occurred a couple of year’s back. It was a U.K based political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica that triggered this sudden avalanche of interest in Data Privacy. Cambridge Analytica, combined data mining, data brokerage and data analytics to extract information from Facebook users.

The method adopted by Cambridge Analytica was rather simple. Through an application called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ it asked Facebook users if it could collect their data. About 270,000 users volunteered and gave permission to the application to collect and share their data. Now with this approval and in violation of Facebook’s policies Cambridge Analytica gained access to the friend networks of these 270,000 users. Cambridge Analytica using this application illegally gained data on about 50 million users who were in the friend’s network of these 270,000. Remember that a majority of these 50 million, had not explicitly allowed Cambridge Analytica permission to access their personal data.
The data collected basically related to the user behaviour and browsing patterns. It analysed political leaning of the user and accordingly targeted segments of Facebook users with what it called ‘Strategic Communications’. While many mainstream political scientists question CA’s claims about the effectiveness of its methods of targeting voters the matter was considered serious enough by most governments of the world to suspend its operations in their territories.

By its own admission Cambridge Analytica declared that they were involved in 44 US political races in 2014. In 2015, CA admitted it performed data analysis services for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in the US. In 2016, CA claimed to have worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as the ‘Leave.EU-campaign’ for the United Kingdom’s referendum on European Union membership. CA’s role in those campaigns has been controversial and is the subject of ongoing criminal investigations in both countries. As the bad press and negative publicity from all these disclosures reverberated across the world, on 1 May 2018, Cambridge Analytica and its parent company filed for insolvency and closed operations.

Now does that mean that all is well and the world is a better place to live in… well actually no. There are still some huge monsters out there and they are not hiding under the bed but still using your data and making money out of it. The worst part of it is that we are willingly providing our approval to these ‘monsters’ to collect and use our personal data.

Most of us own smart phones. Every time we install an application on our phones it innocently asks us permission to access the camera, microphone, contact list, folders etc, etc. We have become so used to these requests that we hardly read them and approve the request. That is when the problem starts.
Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are the giants in the tech world. Today we have reached a stage where we are totally dependent on their application, products and tools. If you do not believe me try this simple test. Try removing or not using google products on your android phone for a day. This would mean not using Gmail, You Tube, Google Maps amongst other applications which you downloaded from Google Play. It would be next to impossible given our dependence on Google and other such companies for most of our mundane internet work. Be it sending or receiving emails, browsing websites, purchasing or selling products online we are puppets in the hands of these massive tech giants.

Now consider this scenario. Assume you want to buy a shoe. You do not have the time to go to the local shoe store, or maybe the design or make you are looking for is not available locally. The first thing you would do is open up your browser and search for the brand of your choice. We would search through Google or check out the options available on Amazon or other similar online retailers. Once you have searched you may or may not decide to purchase the shoe online. Suppose in our scenario you do not go ahead with the online purchase but decide to purchase it locally. As far as you are concerned the matter of the shoe is closed, right? Well the internet and these massive companies do not think so. After this, for a few weeks if you are observant you will notice that as you log on to any web site, you would see advertisements for shoes showing up on the sides of the pages you are browsing. This goes on for a few days. Ever wondered why that happens?

This happens because the information that you had browsed the web, searching for shoes is captured by your browser and passed on by the Googles and Amazon’s of the world. They in turn pass it on to the various web sites which sell these products. IN this way these advertisements customized for your requirements start appearing on to your web browser. If you happen to notice the ad and go ahead and click on it that takes you to the shop where you can buy the shoes. In case you make a purchase then a commission from the sale goes to all these intermediaries who essentially tricked you into buying their product. In essence the internet search engines and business portal make billions out of millions of users like you and me. Now how does that feel? Do you feel cheated or you are ok with being spied upon?

In the above scenario it was a simple shoe now imagine if you happened to browse a porn site or purchased some lingerie online. As a human being you have every right to do that. The problem is that information is also passed on to all the relevant companies who can target you in future. Imagine the case where the same PC or Laptop is shared between multiple people in the same house. How would you like it if your children or grandparent suddenly find their web site plastered by ads for such products? Another slightly dangerous aspect of this breach of data privacy is that organisations where you apply for jobs may want to check you background through your internet searches. The fact that you have in the past browsed such sites will make you un-fit to get jobs.

Then there is another side to this whole story. A lot of website propound extremist ideologies and display information about how to make explosives or propound violence. This browsing information has in the past been used by police organisations to track and arrest operatives from perpetrating acts of violence and mayhem. By tracking onsite browsing data, intelligence organisations have been able to find such criminals before they could put their plans into action. There are specific group who search the web for people who visit child- pornography sites or have such information. Such investigative work has resulted in the arrest across the world. While this is a positive aspect of such data collection it should be remembered that there is a fine line between protection and harassment and too often government agencies tend to overstep their limits and monitor citizens above and beyond what is permissible. Examples are the extreme cases of censorship applied by the Chinese government.
All this bring us to the question as to what is it that we as citizens do to protect ourselves from such blatant violation of our privacy. One way is read carefully the pop-up that come up when you install applications on your cell phones. If you feel that it is too intrusive do not accept it. Find alternative applications and products that respect your privacy and do not intrude into your private life. We will be publishing details of such applications and tools on this web site. Keep reading and stay safe!