Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Why Every Smartphone Should Have A Dumb Mode

Mark Wilson has published an article in the FastCompany website that I hope every cell phone manufacturer’s engineers will read and consider. Wilson is in favor of smartphones but feels that each smartphone also should have a switch to convert it into a dumb phone. His definition of a dumb phone is that it would function like the old-fashioned flip phones and “candy bar” phones that make and receive phone calls and little else.

Quoting the article:

“What would dumbphone mode do? Simple. It would turn your smartphone into a device for calls and texts. That’s it. Other apps would simply disappear from your screen so as not to tempt you to tap. And all that spyable data lurking deep in the OS–like GPS tracking–would be deactivated. As a result, you’d get the full dumphone experience without carrying another phone around.”

I will suggest that Mark Wilson’s idea has a lot of merit, both for the reasons he mentions in the article and for a couple of other reasons as well.

First, a dumb phone mode probably would allow consumers some control over how and when device manufacturers and app developers would have access to your personal data. If you aren’t checking email, surfing the web, accessing Facebook, or any other functions that expose your present location (as broadcast by the smartphone’s internal GPS) or expose your personal information to the data harvesters at Google, Facebook, and elsewhere, you would have far more protection of your privacy. Indeed, you could turn on the smartphone functions when you feel you need to access the sensitive applications and you feel it is worth the risk in this individual situation. I assume that anyone concerned with personal privacy would leave the phone in dumb phone mode most of the time in order to minimize privacy exposure even though the phone’s owner might still feel a need to use the smartphone mode occasionally.

Next, dumbphones would not be as distracting when driving, in company meetings, or when you simply need some “down time.” However, the smartphone mode would always be available at the times and places that are appropriate.

Finally, any phone in dumb phone mode would be easier for senior citizens, non-technical adults, and for children to operate. This has already been proven thousand of times. Just look at the ads for today’s very popular dumb phones as published in the AARP newsletter and other publications that are often read by senior citizens. As these dumbphone users become more familiar with their phones, they could switch to smartphone mode without needing to purchase another cell phone.

Would a dumb phone mode on a smartphone be attractive to everyone? Probably not. However, I suspect it would appeal to many people, including to privacy advocates.

You can read Mark Wilson’s article at:

Categories: Cell Phones, Online Privacy & Security

2 replies

  1. Hi,
    a question:
    Is there a phone with keyboard (phone without touchscreen) that has internal memory encryption?



    • —> Is there a phone with keyboard (phone without touchscreen) that has internal memory encryption?

      I cannot think of any that are designed for practical use by consumers.

      Many years ago, when I was a crypto technician in the U.S. military, we did have such phones that were used mostly by high-ranking officers (3 star generals and above in my experience) as well as high-level politicians. I heard that the President of the U.S. had one although I never saw that myself.

      HOWEVER, all this was in the days before “smartphones (Android smartphones and Apple iPhones) had been invented. No phones in those days had touchscreens.

      Of course, these were all purchased by the U.S. government and then handed out to senior personnel who had a need for them. Also, the encrypted phones all appeared to be built mostly by hand. I never heard the official purchase price but I am sure it must have been thousands of dollars for each one.


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