15 Aug 2014

The perils of not owning your mobile phone

Got your phone? It’s in your bag, right? Along with all the other things you own. Not quite: in fact, the vast majority of us don’t actually own our phones at all, we rent them.


If you’re on a monthly contract part of your regular payment is the cost of the phone, spread out over two years. Sure, after that time you own the phone, but that’s invariably the time you sign a new two-year contract and start the whole process again.

What about the software? All those lovely free apps that make your photos look vintage and tell you when the bus will arrive? Not to mention the underlying operating system itself, be it Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and so on? Sorry, they’re rented too: in the case of Android, it’s licensed out to the phone manufacturers who then stick it inside the phone you rent. In the case of the free apps, you pay for them by watching ads and giving over data.

We are gradually turning into a population of digital tenants, increasingly removed from the concept of owning not just the devices, but the very data that makes them so precious to us.

Does it matter? It does once you get an insight into what lack of ownership means. Recently I road-tested a Windows 8 laptop I was considering buying. I used the pre-installed music player, which worked fine for a while, but then refused to play any tracks until it had been updated (turns out that, while I nominally “own” the laptop Microsoft still seeks to exert an unwelcome influence over it). With no internet connection at the time, I couldn’t update the software, and so the music stopped. But the consequences are potentially more serious than just a halted playlist.

Being a digital tenant means being tied to a digital landlord, and as anyone who’s rented a house will know, the power belongs to the property owner.

Bearing in mind how much we now know about the technology companies’ (albeit enforced) cooperation with governments, how comfortable should we be with devices into which those tech companies can delve at any time?

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8 reader comments

  1. Cameron says:

    There are operating systems such as linux that are absolutely free and are open sourced meaning that you can study every line of programming in them.
    they are much safer and a lot more secure then Microsoft operating systems with far more flexibility.
    you can also find many free office suits online that you can download, most of them contain no advertising. they too are much safer then Microsoft products and unlike Microsoft product, do not compromise your online security.

  2. Luke William Thomas says:

    Quite. And what’s worse is that we – through tax-payer funded public research – have already paid for the development of the majority of the technology found in smartphones e.g. touchscreens, GPS.

    We pay twice, and never own what we’re paying for.

  3. H Statton says:

    Microsoft has all the solutions to all the problems – as long as you pay for them of course. Free solutions, registry clean-ups, anti-virus software, anti-malware etc. Don’t download apps just because your friends have them and they seem ‘cool’ – turn the bl**dy phone off when you’re not using it.

    There is the age old art of conversation – you don’t have to interrupt thought-provoking discussion with someone just because they get that irresistible bleep, and terminable rudeness and cold-shouldering ensues, leaving you feeling forsaken and abandoned.

    What happened to dialogue, as opposed to seeing whose mobile vibrates fastest enough to drop off the pub table. I suppose it’s vaguely amusing if you’re desperate, and half-cut. But is this where modern culture is headed? I am sick of finishing second place to a selfie, or some banal star wars tune. More and more, I seem to be sitting at social tables which are dominated by iPhones, crass-music, and celebrity updates. Geez, I’m fed up.

  4. Dj Footprint says:

    So – The ultimate question is – Is it ‘smart’ to ‘own’ (possess) a Smartphone. Constantly paying, being bombarded with adverts – potentially, your every move, purchase, communication tracked?

    I’ll stick with my plain old handset / phone – that i own, thank you very much.

  5. David Henderson says:

    Join the priviliged minority just don’t have one of these electronic devils that people poke at like demented woodpeckers, I am proud to stand up and say “I don”t have a mobile!”

  6. Nigel Draper says:

    Nonsense. You own the phone from the moment you receive it. You have a contractual obligation to pay for airtime, but the phone is yours (if you don’t pay, you’ll be pursued for the debt, they won’t ask for the phone back)

  7. H Statton says:

    My mobile phone is just that: a *mobile*phone. I stick it in my pocket, walk around and way-hey(!) it becomes mobile. It is for emergency use only. I don’t need an iPhone, Tablet etc. This way I run the show. It has no Bluetooth, so no hacking, no shared data.

    No mindless apps that I neither want nor need. I’ll be sticking with my Cretaceous Period phone. Sometimes, cyberspace is so radioactively hot, we are witnessing the development of an internal paparazzi – a generation of ‘cloud-pimps’ sitting on the horizon waiting for their moment. They don’t have to run around so much getting their exclusive story they just wriggle inside like a bunch of electrical nematodes and take what they want.

    Best advice for celebs and plebs alike is don’t put sensitive material on your iPhone, iPad etc. in the first place. Personally, I thought that this was pretty obvious. It’s amazing how compromising photos spread across cyberspace once the paparazzi parasites get their information. Don’t be so trusting.

  8. Ray Hipkiss says:

    I thought that it was already common knowledge that taking out a contract meant that we were just renting the handset.

    In response to Cameron, even though Linux is open source and “free”, you still do not own it. It is only “free” to use and modify. Therefore, you still do not own it even though you don’t need to pay to install and use it.

    Anyway, as long as your device is connected in whatever way, you will be at the mercy of the rest of the world who desperately want as much personal information about you add possible. So if this makes you uncomfortable then simply pull the plug and disconnect from cyberspace.

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