Kill switches might let the government brick your smartphone

In today's open source roundup: Kill switch laws could give the government the power to brick your smartphone. Plus: A review of KDE Plasma 5, and is systemd evil?

Smartphone kill switch laws have been touted in the media a lot lately as a way to protect your phone from theft. But are they actually a good idea? If Google or Apple can brick your smartphone then what is to stop the government from ordering them to do so when it wants to stop you from using your phone? Foss Force takes a look at some of the chilling and disturbing consequences of smartphone kill switches.

According to Foss Force:

This law is mainly a hoax and will only marginally protect John Q. Public’s phones. Mainly what it does is mandate a door installed on each and every new smartphone that can be used by the police as a tool to quell dissent.

If the owner can disable a phone with nothing but access to a computer or another mobile device, so can Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia or Apple. Google and Apple have already demonstrated their ability to remove software from all devices using their respective operating systems. If the designers of a phone’s operating system can brick a phone, guess who else can do the same? Everybody from the NSA to your friendly neighborhood police force, that’s who. At most, all they’ll need is a convincing argument that they’re acting in the interest of “public safety.”

More at Foss Force
Kill Switches in Smartphones

I must confess that I had not thought through the issue of smartphone kill switches. I'd been thinking of it purely in terms of stopping thieves, it never occurred to me that having kill switches built in might be something that a government could use to disable phones or features in phones when it wanted to stop people from using them.

I suspect that we'll see people jailbreaking or otherwise hacking their own phones to disable kill switches at some point. And the entire issue underscores the need for open software and hardware that puts control in the hands of the phone owner. But I wonder if even that will help if such phones are banned by law in states like California that are nearing passage of kill switch laws.

We'll hear much more about kill switches in the future, particularly after the first real use of them by the government. Right now most smartphone users are probably not even aware of the kill switch dangers listed in the Foss Force article, but their eyes will be opened the first time a government abuses that power for its own interests.

KDE Plasma 5 review

Ars Technica reviews KDE Plasma 5, and comes away with a mostly positive impression.

According to Ars Technica:

KDE's Plasma 5 release lacks the attention-grabbing, paradigm-shifting changes that keep Unity and GNOME in the spotlight. Instead, the KDE project has been focused on improving its core desktop experience. Plasma 5 is not perfect by any means, but, unlike Unity and GNOME, it's easy to change the things you don't like.

What's perhaps most heartening about this release is that KDE has managed to get a lot of the groundwork done for alternate interfaces without messing with their desktop interface much at all. The speed improvements are also good news. If you've tried KDE in the past and found it too "heavy," you might want to give Plasma 5 a fresh look.

More at Ars Technica
KDE Plasma 5 review
Image credit: Ars Technica

I have not had time to sit down with KDE Plasma 5 yet, but I'm impressed by what I saw in the review. The Breeze theme looks a lot easier on the eyes than previous KDE releases, and I can see myself warming up to it much more than in the past.

I am not sure at all about the translucency in Plasma 5 though, I think I will have to see it in action before making up my mind. Everybody seems to be rushing to include translucency in their operating systems but it can be really annoying if not done properly. The author of the article expresses some reservations about it, but I'll hold off on a final judgement until I have a chance to see it for myself.

If you want to check out KDE Plasma 5, you can download the Neon live disc.

Is systemd evil?

InfoWorld looks at systemd and doesn't like what it sees.

According to InfoWorld:

There's no shortage of egos in the open source development world. There's no shortage of new ideas and veteran developers and administrators pooh-poohing something new simply because it's new. But there are also 45 years of history behind Unix and extremely good reasons it's still flourishing. Tools designed like systemd do not fit the Linux mold, to their own detriment. systemd's design has more in common with Windows than with Unix -- down to the binary logging.

My take is that systemd is a good idea poorly implemented, developed by people with enormous egos who firmly believe they can do no wrong. As it stands now, both systemd and the developers responsible for it need to change. In the open source world, change is a constant and sometimes violent process, and upheavals around issues such as systemd aren't necessarily bad. That said, these battles cannot be drawn out forever without causing irreparable harm -- and any element as integral to the stability and functionality of Linux as systemd has even less time than most.

More at InfoWorld

There's no doubt that systemd has caused quite a lot of controversy in the Linux world. I've seen passionate comments by some Linux users decrying its use, while others feel quite comfortable with it. I suspect we'll see these debates continuing for a very long time.

If you aren't familiar with systemd, you might want to check out Wikipedia's systemd background article. And be sure to read this blog entry from back in February that explains why systemd is winning the init wars.

What's your take on all this? Tell me in the comments below.

The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of ITworld.

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