Is it Smart To Carry a Smart Phone?

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Editors Note: Another article from valknut79 to The Prepper JournalAs always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and be entered into the Prepper Writing Contest with a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies!

I carry an Android Smart Phone, and I love it. It is my daily access to entertainment, with my podcasts, my music, and even an occasionally movie while I’m riding the exercise bike at the gym. It’s my social outlet, where I can text my friends, make sure my wife doesn’t need me to pick something up after work, and what I used to use before I cancelled my Facebook account to keep up with the family. It’s also access to the whole world of knowledge thanks to the internet and apps. If I need to learn how to do something, I have that access at my fingertips.

It’s also one of the most dangerous things that I carry.

My smart phone knows who I am. When I set up my Android, it asked me for my email address, which I readily gave for the privledge of using this life-changing device. My email is linked to my name, my address, and now my phone number, all under the control of a company who used to have as part of it’s mission statement “Don’t be evil.” My smart phone knows where I live, because I have a real estate app on my phone so I can track what’s going on in my neighborhood. My phone knows where I go, because even if I turn off my location services, I’m not vigilant enough to turn on and off my wifi access, so by virtue of the phone looking for wifi access points, it can calculate my location by knowing where those wifi spots are located. Since smart phones are so smart, yet so fragile, my contacts and preferences are stored on the cloud in case I break my phone, so it’s possible to figure out who I talk to and communicate with as well. While Apple has taken the controversial stance to block government access to their services I don’t feel like counting on a company’s current opinions on data security to remain consistent.

Perhaps most sinister, however, is that my phone is now my crutch, and phones everywhere are the crutches of people around the world. I find it difficult to drive to work without having access to my podcasts and audio books, and I don’t even have a long drive. Exercise is difficult without the entertainment as well. If you have a map app on your phone, you no longer need to remember where things are located in relation to each other, and you don’t need to really know where you are or pay attention because your phone can get you anywhere. My teenage daughter needed to jump her car battery a week ago, and instead of remembering (as I taught her) how to connect the jumper cables, she looked it up on YouTube because she felt she didn’t need to remember or know this basic skill. When I babysat my nieces and nephews, I took away their phones and they literally could not entertain themselves for more than an hour in a room full of toys. Psychiatrists have done studies that link the amount of screen time in young people’s lives to the early onset of schizophrenia and anxiety.

Breaking the Habit

Try as you might, I think it is probably impossible to get rid of a smart phone for many people. For instance, my employer expects me to have access to my email at all hours of the day from wherever I am located (and that’s ridiculous, but that’s modern life for you). It’s possible, however, to defer usage of it for short periods of time. I bought a prepaid flip phone from my local big box store, and I use a call forwarding service to forward calls and texts to that for a 24 hour period, starting on Saturday night until Sunday evening. This allows me to leave the smart phone at home and forces me to carry a phone that does almost nothing. No podcasts, no apps, no music. It’s not fun, but I feel like it’s a necessary thing for me so that I can maintain my sanity. Even though I can feel the difference in weight, and even though I know it’s just a flip phone, I find myself reaching for it more often than I’m comfortable with still.

This flip phone may end up being an important prepping supply as well. As I referenced earlier, even with location services turned off, it’s possible to use data access points to find you. A flip phone that has no wifi or location functions cannot be used to track you, if you pay cash for the phone and are careful about it’s use. If you ever need to disappear, changing your phone number is going to be one of the first things that you want to do. As these phones with their antiquated technology become less and less common in big box retailers, it may be a good idea to purchase one to save for a rainy day. If nothing else, you can use any phone, even ones whose service is no longer active, to call 911 in an emergency.

Data Security

Data security is an easier thing to control. It starts with information you give to other companies, from your name and aliases to your social media. Your phone is just like your computer, it’s just easier to hack, so many of these tips will work for both your PC and your phone.

First, it may be smart to establish a new email address. Switching is difficult, but the privacy issues you encounter could be worthwhile. Consider using a service like hushmail (hushmail.com) which does not track IP location data when you sign in and send messages. Use a different alias than you normally do. Even if you decide that hushmail is too difficult and inconvenient, then perhaps it’s best to sign up at another site using a false identity, using a false IP address (look at Tor or another secured browser). Keep in mind that, especially if you are a gmail user, your entire life is open to Google if you make use of their entire suite of tools – your documents are on their cloud, your phone number and email information is key to their services, and the basic calendar on your phone is linked to your account as well.

Second, remove your credit card information from all of the websites you purchase from. Yes, they may be secured for now, but are going to be hacked one day or another, and you don’t want your information to be among the data they steal. Your credit card information is among the most damning information that someone can get from you, so you want to make it as difficult as possible. Yes, you’ll have to enter your credit card information every time you order a new pocket knife from Amazon, but the data security and privacy is worth it. For subscription services, where they store your credit card information month after month to charge you, then consider buying a prepaid gift card and reloading the balance prior to them charging you. This requires some maintenance, but makes it easy to cancel any membership and difficult for criminals to access your information.

Finally, delete or obfuscate your information from social media websites. Recent Facebook controversies should be enough to encourage you to do this, and if you haven’t done this yet, you’re behind the curve. Note that just because it’s Facebook that’s in trouble, that doesn’t mean that LinkedIn or Twitter are not the next to sell your information.

If you’re using a browser, you may want to look into a browser that changes your IP address, like TOR, or use a VPN to create a secured data tunnel which hackers will find more difficult to spy on what you’re doing. When you’re using your phone, it is important not to log into public wifi access points because it’s possible for hackers to spy on your data from these points. It is far beyond the scope of this article to explain these thoroughly, but suffice it to say that it’s not too difficult for hackers to spy on traffic from unsecured networks.

Data security professionals would be able to give you hundreds of other data security tips, but for the amateur user, this is at least a good start.

Fight Complacency

Finally, the greatest danger of phones is that they cause you to become complacent. You don’t need to know (slightly) advanced math because your phone has a tip calculator, or a percentage calculator for sales. You don’t need to know basic math because your phone has a regular calculator as well. You don’t need to know basic navigational skills (like knowing which direction is north) if you have the map feature and directions. You don’t need to memorize emergency phone numbers because your contact list has them. Take the time to remember these important skills, put down the phone from time to time, and most importantly, teach your children how to do these basic tasks so that they won’t become reliant on this technology. It is one of humankind’s most important advancements, but it’s also one of the most dangerous.

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2 Comments on "Is it Smart To Carry a Smart Phone?"

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Red J
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There’s a lot of food for thought in this article. MeWe is a social network that does NOT track or sell its users’ data. If you tell your credit card company that you’re concerned about fraudulent use of your card, they can change your credit card number w/out changing your acct. If you change credit card accounts often, it’ll have a negative effect on your credit rating. James Wesley Rawles of survivalblog doesn’t use a cell phone except when he or his family members travel, & he recommends keeping some trac phones for that purpose.

John
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I like flip phones, and that is my primary phone. One concern is that the 3G format is on the way out, and I don’t know that any flip phones are available to work on 4G or later phone systems.