Obama Phones

This is the tenth entry in a series of cybersecurity themed articles; stay tuned for more if you’re enjoying this content!

Odds are good that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably never heard the term “Obama Phone” before in your life. That’s totally fine; let me give you a bit of backstory on that term. According to https://www.obamaphone.com/what-is-the-obama-phone , the program was first conceived of in the mid to late 1980’s, in the Reagan era, to provide home phone service to the underprivileged and impoverished Americans who more than likely could not afford telephone service on their own. In the mid 90’s, this program was expanded to not differentiate between landline services, instead considering them both as telecommunications services which should be available to all Americans. With the legislation changed to allow for free cellular device service for poor Americans, it follows that these folks would also need cellular phones to go with this free or reduced cost cellular service. These, often free or extremely low cost, cellular phones are colloquially known as “Obama phones”.

Back in the age of the venerable BlackBerry cellular phone, these devices were a real boon for the users they were intended to empower with access to voice, texting, and internet connectivity. Over time, the quality of the devices given to these users increased as technological advances made cellular phones faster, smaller, and more cost effective to produce. As with most electronics in common use today, eventually production of these phones was moved to Chinese companies. At the surface, this seems like a win/win; the users get better quality phones and the federal government program saves money.

As a recent Ars Technica article points out, these phones are now arriving in these users’ hands pre-loaded with all manner of bloatware, intended for the sole purpose of collecting data on these phones’ users. This wouldn’t be so bad, if this collection could be opted out of. The sad truth of the matter is that this software is installed without the user’s knowledge or consent, and cannot be uninstalled. It’s truly a travesty that we would allow companies to take advantage of the folks using this program in such a way. If you find yourself using an Obama phone, or know someone who does, please let them know about this covert data collection scheme.

Stay safe out there!

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