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
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