Is Android the land of opportunity for humane tech?

I wrote some thoughts on why the solutions to the digital attention crisis will emerge from Google > Apple.

What do you think of this view?

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Thank you again for your work Andrew!

Until we get a real live ethics committee to advise companies nothing will change. People like you have first hand experience on this subject but most do not- so they need that ethics committee.

I don’t think anything will change at Apple- it takes years to move a big company even today.

This issue requires a social revolution and being so tied to money it can’t chNge overnight unless it is started from the bottom up with thoughts like yours.

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Nice article @andrewmurraydunn!

I agree on you on being able to go the extra mile on Android, to hone the experience, and make apps comply to humane principles wrt attention, addictiveness, and Time Well Spent. Also as a developer I am very happy with the openness of the platform and can program both in popular Java and Kotlin languages, rather than Apple-only Swift.

But for the users this also has its downsides. Android has much more privacy issues, for instance. The permission system is too coarse-grained, and both Google and smartphone provider, such as Samsung (while a hardware provider with paid ‘customers’) build in their own sauce to get at our personal information. I recently gave Samsung Head of Digital my feedback on this:

The most nagging aspects, if you ask me, are:

  • Having to spend a full hour to change privacy settings from their opt-in defaults to opt-out on a new smartphone or tv set
  • Having privacy policies that are enormously long reads full of judiscial text, that only a specialized lawyer can realy understand >
  • Having (sometimes nasty) 3rd-party software trackers built into your products, or dragged in when updating
  • Having lots of Samsung-related and 3rd-party software apps installed by default and not being able to deactivate and uninstall them, even when not using them

In the compiled software codebase the tracking codes can be deeply embedded and very hard to trace. The fact that our data has so much value, and the fact that both Google and Samsung have a big hand in its collection, makes me lose trust in Android, and I am actively looking for alternatives.

Apple has a better reputation in this perspective.

While a tech-savvy person can compile an Android OS without Google and Samsung codes in it and install it on their phone, this is not easy. Luckily there are 2 open-source, privacy-first alternatives that look promising to me, which are Eelo and Librem 5 (this last one runs Linux OS, and will be able to run Android apps in a compartmentlized part of the phone).

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Just want to add the user base. Here in Asia majority of smart phone users are using android phone.

Good that you mention, @anon22019695. Maybe this is price-related?

Allow me the opportunity to add some statistics on smartphone use worldwide and per country/region:

https://www.statista.com/topics/840/smartphones/

Thanks @aschrijver !

I appreciate this perspective. There’s clearly a tradeoff between privacy and customization, and that value mix is totally different for each person.

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Do you think there could be a way to make an Android distro that makes this easier? I’m imagining a mobile OS that gives users total control over the packages that are installed, but doesn’t require them to compile the entire system from source code. Like a kind of “Arch linux for smartphones”?

I am not really a coder or techie in any way, but I have done a lot of tinkering with linux systems for fun. It’s actually really easy for non-tech people, as it requires no more skill than the ability to read directions, be persistent, and do research. If such a distro were available for mobile devices I would be all over it, and I suspect there are a lot of people in the same boat. This wouldn’t necessarily open things up to the masses, but it would definitely broaden the range of accessibility for people who would like to tinker with their smartphone OS for privacy/security reasons. If such a project already exists, I would love to hear about it from anyone who can give more info!

EDIT: After some googling, I found a project called Halium, not quite what I was describing but still interesting: https://halium.org/ and https://github.com/Halium

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Thanks for pointing out Halium… I have it bookmarked now. AFAICS after quick peek however, this is a way to run Linux apps on top of a pre-installed Android phone (that is ‘rooted’, i.e. needs some software installation from the admin account, and voiding your warranty).

I think eelo is what you are looking for here. It is already available, will be fully open-source and community-developed.

Yes and the varieties of smart phone with android OS are quite numerous in different sizes, models, features etc from various manufacturers. Compared to iphone on the same range model android is much cheaper with basically same or more capability.

Can you share live examples of other humane customizations that are possible on Android but not iOS? Ones I included were:

  • Batch notifications

  • Change icon design

  • Geo fencing

  • SMS autoresponder

Nice article. Thanks for sharing.