by Jamie Holmes
Purism, a manufacturer of privacy-focused hardware and software, have furthered their relationship with Monero with an announcement made October 13. After the company began accepting the anonymous cryptocurrency, Purism now plans to incorporate Monero into their Librem 5 phones, which will become available in January 2019.
A cash-like, digital platforms for smartphones uses will be based on Monero (XMR), as the Librem 5 shares a common goal of preserving privacy. The Librem 5 smartphone is a product of a crowdfunding campaign, which has raised more than $1.5 million, to build a device based on open-source software, that doesn’t track users or undermine their privacy and allows individuals to escape the clutches of Apple and Google. The announcement follows on from the adoption of XMR by Purism in early October.
Users can benefit from encrypted calls which will hide your phone number, encrypted texts and emails and the ability to set up VPN for web browsing. It is not just payments on the device that will be decentralized; communications will be too. The Librem 5 will be the first Matrix-native smartphone, which is a decentralized alternative to the public telephone network that will eventually link different forms of communication such as VoIP and IM. Instead of running on Android or iOS, PureOS will be used, or any GNU/Linux distribution where source code is available. This way, individuals will be able to verify that the version of the software they are running is the same as everyone else’s.
The rationale for such a device is explained by a talk from HCPP17 delivered by Smuggler, titled “The Fog of Crypto War.” In this presentation, he outlined the means by which governments are trying to remotely access individual’s data. For instance, he pointed to the subversion of update procedures, which can be made a lot easier if companies like Apple and Google are forced to comply. Since updaters have the potential to change every part of a device’s software, they could already be used as intentional backdoors.
“Both Google (Android) as well as Apple (iOS/iPhone) have already suppressed and forcibly deinstalled software from their customers’ devices, which allows for the assumption that they could also be made to install software – if government asks for it and a sound legal process for it is established.”
It is not just security where Monero can improve Purism’s offering. The cryptocurrency can also remove the friction involved with online shopping; Librem users will have no need to use a bank account or keep their identity stored centrally. The synergistic relationship should lead people to think about their privacy in every aspect, technologically and economically.
On the collaboration, Todd Weaver, Founder and CEO of Purism stated:
“We must proactively plan for and address digital rights issues in the here and now, because by the time we face them in the future the damage will be irreversible. Collaboration with Monero allows us to offer users a much lower barrier to entry for leveraging the benefits of a cryptocurrency, and our aim is to make it incredibly simple to use your Librem 5 smartphone to make secure, cash-like payments that safeguard your private information.”
Furthermore, Monero Core Team Member Francisco Cabañas said, “The Librem 5 makes it easy for the average user to use Monero for real world transactions on a mobile platform. In addition, the Librem 5, by using Free Libre Open Source Software provides the user with the opportunity to verify to a very high level its end point security, privacy and decentralization. This is in sharp contrast to many mobile platforms where the user has to trust a proprietary implementation. I am very excited to see the Librem 5 planning to have Monero support by default.”
But is it a phone for the paranoid? Or do we take our privacy for granted? The more we examine how much our devices learn about us, the more reluctant we should become with regards to buying and using a standard smartphone. For instance, the convenience of Google Maps to most people is the price they pay for the tech giant storing information about your location and everywhere you go. Moreover, traditional mobile phone networks can pinpoint your wherabouts as your phone links to masts, and with triangulation, your location can be pinned down pretty accurately. The only way to avoid this at present is to remove the battery from your phone.
Librem 5 will give consumers the choice not to submit to the terms and conditions of tech giants such as Google, Samsung, and Apple, which have all been criticized in recent times with respect to user privacy. To say we’re living in an Orwellian world is not much of a stretch if a major electronics company warns you to not discuss sensitive information while sitting in the comfort of your home watching television. In fact, there is at least one retailer in the UK (and perhaps many more around the world) subsidized by companies like Samsung to push their products onto the population.
Even though governments like to talk a big game about banning encryption, if they follow through, they’ll be shooting themselves in the foot. Instead, it is more likely that government agencies are ‘nudging’ software vendors to deliver software with less secure settings, for instance, Smuggler points to iMessage and Whatsapp as two contemporary examples, “Intentionally or not, this [‘nudging’ software vendors] could already be witnessed with Whatsapp, where verification of keys during key rotation was not performed, and the user not informed about the fact that keys had been rotated. This would in many cases be sufficient to trick users into communicating with a man-in-the-middle.”
“A similar approach could be taken when it comes to preserving communication histories or backups of local data to the cloud in a way that keeps the data accessible by the vendor. This could already be witnessed with Apple iMessage.”
People are too busy or too inconvenienced to take control of their privacy, but hopefully, the Librem 5 will make it easier for them to do so. The move to incorporate Monero, an anonymous cryptocurrency by default, into the device makes it a must have for privacy advocates and those who do not want to share sensitive information with prying ears (or eyes). Although it is an exciting product, enthusiasts will have to wait more than a year before they can get their hands on the smartphone and start making monero payments with it.