New Smartphone Day: Be Afraid (Update)

For years, I was able to trade up my cellphone for a new one within three months of the end of my Verizon contract.  The trick was to keep me as a customer, as acquisition costs were steep and it was worth the loss of a few months to keep me loyal.  Plus, the cellphones were always free.  It was the Schick Razor approach to technology: Give them the razor and they’ll buy the blades.

Ironically, I had a phone called a razor for much of the time.  The old Star Tac and flip phone were history, and there was a new “G” always tempting me.  When I took the dive to my first smartphone, it was a shock.  Verizon must have assumed they had me in a vise grip, as the  smartphone was no longer free, plus they dumped an activation fee on me.  I wasn’t as put out by the cost of the phone as I was outraged by the fee.  It was pure, unadulterated greed, a fee for nothing. Sure, they gave a nonsensical excuse, but everyone knew it was a lie. The reason for the fee was that they wanted more money.

Still, I had to get new phones for everyone, and with my kids in need of reliable smartphones now, I pushed forward.  It’s two years later, and the once-shiny smartphones have dulled. The batteries are dying. The camera has issues. The connection, once strong and fast, is now gasping for breath.  Smartphones truly are smart. After a year and a half, they start to die in almost perfect coordination with the need for a new phone and contract. It’s genius in precision obsolescence.

I learned that the old three-months-in-advance rule is now a relic, and I don’t get a new phone until the day my contract runs out.  Wow, does Verizon think it owns me.  But the inertia is strong in me, and I ran the deals from the other guys and they suck big time.

Aside: How does the FTC allow advertisements that are facially false? I ran the numbers, and the promoted “deals” are scams. Every one of them. That goes for the cable TV triple plays too. So how is it this is good with everybody?

The good news was that the new smartphone I planned to get was now months old, so it was free while the newest, coolest phones cost the big bucks.  Not needing to be cutting edge, I was quite happy with a free Android phone (don’t even ask about Apple. Do not ask).  Then I began thinking about this post by Turk at New York Personal Injury Blog.

So introduced a new phone yesterday. And what does it do? It allows you to point it at some knick-knack you might want to buy and Amazon tells you how much you can buy it for from them.

What is really does, of course, is give yet more information to Amazon and its partners as to your every thought, whim and desire. What does it do for the consumer? Not so much. You can already go to their website, after all, and see what they have.

The cross-marketing aspect is rather remarkable, assuming the sort of person who would buy this Amazon phone doesn’t mind paying for the privilege of being their marketing target. But Turk’s real point was what we give away for free about our lives to businesses that know so much about us that it makes the NSA envious.

Google, which started out with a mantra of “Don’t be evil” loves to collect information on you. So too does LinkedIn, which seems to like snooping through your contacts, then using those names to send out spam.

Lawyers should learn from this: Because this is everything you should not do.

I don’t know what my smartphone tells others about me. I don’t know who it’s telling.  I’m pretty confident that if I did know in any detail, I would take a sledge-hammer and pound it into dust, never again touching the nasty thing that reveals my life to strangers.  But I put it out of my head so that I can make a call from the road or check for the latest cute kitteh video.

Truth is, my smartphone is turned off about 75% of the time. I don’t give out my number, and I don’t like to be called except in an emergency.  I’m not the kind of guy who needs to chat on the phone all the time, and the internet seems to exist quite well without my watching it.  But when I want to use it, I want it to be there for me, so for all my ambivalence toward smartphones, I still want to have one at my beck and call.  Mea culpa.

I’m reminded of Judge Korman’s opinion in Abidor v. Napolitano, stop “drinking the Kool-Aid.” If we want privacy, we have to let go of our adoration of shiny tech things.  They give us away. They will always give us away.  There is no legal solution, no mumbo-jumbo like “reasonable suspicion,” that will protect and defend our privacy.  In that case, it was border searches by the government in a pre-Riley world, but if it’s not the NSA, then it’s Google. Or Amazon. Or Microsoft. Or somebody.  I no more want Bezos owning me than anyone else.

But I’m not a hermit, and the world in which we live demands connection.  For digital natives, the idea of going tech naked is unthinkable.  For those of us who came of age when pay phones ruled the world (pay phones were public telephones into which you put coins in order to make a telephone call, often enclosed in glass booths for privacy), the idea that an array of companies now knows our every move is similarly unthinkable.  And yet, today I will get a new smartphone that will allow just that, no matter how much I pretend it won’t.

The activation fee is bad enough. The cost in privacy is far worse. And yet, I succumb, much to my shame.

Update: After the usual needlessly annoying dance moves, Dr. SJ and I got our new phones. My son, however, was up at college, and had to manage on his own.  At the Verizon Corporate Store, he bought his phone, which would have been fine except that he was charged $149 for his phone, which is priced at $49 on their website.

I called customer service, who informed me it was an “internet only” sale. Except nowhere did it say so, which is when she tried to double talk me with nonsense.  So, Verizon Wireless beat my son out of $100.  I will do what I can to address that deficit, plus some. Because I can.  I really don’t care for businesses that scam their customers, or being fed nonsense by customer service reps.


21 thoughts on “New Smartphone Day: Be Afraid (Update)

  1. the other rob

    On your aside about facially false advertisements: It’s a maxim that acts of Congress generally do the opposite of what the title says. Thus the Truth in Advertising act makes it a federal felony to tell the truth in an advertisement. Or that’s how I imagine it might appear to a hypothetical extraterrestrial.

  2. Turk

    I suspect that you write not to mention Apple based on the whole shiny widget thing. But I believe that they protect your privacy better than others.

    They aren’t in the biz of selling your profile to ad companies like Google or Facebook, or tracking your purchases like Amazon or your contacts like LinkedIn.

    They were falsely accused this week by the Chinese of tracking people, and they put out a statement on privacy protection that is worth reading, if privacy is a leading concern in cell phone purchase.

    It’s also worth noting that the less they collect, the less they can be forced to turn over to a govt upon demand.

    1. SHG Post author

      You suspect wrong. I don’t want to discuss Apple. Yet you did. This is what Apples does to people.

      All it takes for Apple to prevail is for good men to do nothing.

      –Abraham Lincoln

      1. Turk

        But you did want to discuss privacy. It’s hard to talk about only one portion of an elephant in a room.

        1. SHG Post author

          Privacy is only one of my concerns. Another is the inability to resist the impulse to bring up iToys even in the face of a request not to. I hear there is no drug to prevent this impulse, and it scares me.

          1. Turk

            It isn’t actually about the toy, but about the way different companies use the tech that is available. We could just as well be talking about websites that force you to register in order to comment ( or FB, LinkedIn, etc)

            All of this is subject to abuse on any given smartphone. So my comment isn’t really about the bells and whistles of any particular hardware or software but about data collection. (Amazon, of course, seems to now be taking it further on the hardware side.)

            But I’ll stop now.

            1. SHG Post author

              No, the post wasn’t about the iToy. Your comments, on the other hand…

              But you’ll stop now. Which is nice of you.

          2. tim

            Different companies have different incentives over what to do with your data. The shinny robot company’s entire business model is around your data so their incentive is to keep it and analyse it. A certain fruit company’s business model is to move hardware so their incentive is to not to keep it. A certain company in Redmond has a more complex model that doesn’t that no one can quite figure out (hopefully the new CEO will bring clarity). But It’s worth discussing all approaches when it comes to this topic and the advantages and disadvantages to the consumer.

            And your comments around that certain fruit company in this thread border on anger. Seriosily dude. It’s a fucking phone. Get over it

            1. SHG Post author

              You miss the point about the fruit company, which has been discussed to death many times before. The “anger” is that I asked that this post not be turned into another Apple gangbang, because it’s not about the fruit company. Yet people couldn’t let it go.

              So seriously, dude. If I ask that it not become the subject of discussion, and yet some people just can’t stand it so very much that THEY MUST WRITE ABOUT IT!!!, it’s a problem. Get over it.

      2. Mark Draughn

        Despite the hype, Apple technology really is pretty neat. (join us) Apple has done some careful design work to keep things simple, (join us!) but unlike Android, Apple’s simplifications are well thought-out (join us Join Us JOIN US!). Just pick up an iPhone or iTab and slide your finger across it (oh yes) and watch the icons scroll by with buttery smoothness (you know you want it). Also, because Apple is a single controlled architecture (we are one), the Apps are much more reliable, since they don’t encounter unpredictable configurations (there can be only one). People who own other smartphones (filth!), are just fooling themselves (diseased). There’s really only one obvious winner in the smartphone world (we will always love you): Apple (precioussss).

        1. Turk

          Don’t blame Mark. He obviously read your other post today on coming home dirty and possibly injured after a day of unstructured playing, and was fantasizing on what it was like to poke a bees’ next again.

          So it’s your fault.

  3. spencer neal

    I have only owned a dumb phone. I keep it turned off until I want to call someone or unless I am expecting a call. So far, that has worked great for me. I just don’t get the attraction of a smartphone.

  4. UltravioletAdmin

    Even turned ‘off’ it’s still usually sending an occasional signal out…

  5. EarlW

    There are times when smartphones are useful. Renewing my parking meter when a meeting is running late, as a GPS when travelling, reading books and viewing my calendar. And a lot more useless stuff.

    One 14 month old toddler bought a 1962 Austin Healey Sprite with a smartphone. Now _that’s_ useless.

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