5 Reasons Why Android is Becoming the Go-To Mobile Device for Activists
Android, the open-source mobile operating system developed by Google, is quickly becoming the smartphone of choice for activists. It’s growing in popularity around the world, recently becoming the number two smartphone in the world behind Nokia’s Symbian operating system and outranks the iPhone in the U.S. Here are 5 reasons why Android should be on any activist's radar.
1. More Possibilities with Open Source
Android is an open-source platform, meaning that the source code is accessible to anyone, allowing for developers to create apps that extend the functionality of devices. With closed platforms like Apple’s iPhone, on the other hand, the manufacturer and/or network have much more control over what users can do with their devices.
As Melissa Loudon of MobileActive points out: “Perhaps the biggest problem with closed platforms, at least for mobile activism work, is the threat of surveillance. Without access to the code, there is no way of knowing that surveillance features aren't present. For anyone dealing with sensitive data or communications, this should be a red flag.” With open source, experts in the security industry, for example, can pour over the code and look for bugs and holes in the software.
2. Better Security
Compared to other types of mobile devices on the market, Android seems to offer the most security. The open-source platform makes it possible for developers to develop apps that make texting, calling, and mobile browsing safer. Two programs of note:
- Orbot, developed by the Guardian Project, is an application that implements Tor on Android phones. It allows mobile phone users to access the web, instant messaging, and email without being monitored or blocked by their mobile internet service provider. Learn more about Tor at https://torproject.org or visit our how-to guide for installing Tor on your phone.
- Whisper Systems, a company run by a security researcher who goes by the name Moxie Marlinspike, has released two different applications for Android that “help restore your ability to conduct your personal and business communications privately.” RedPhone 0.4 provides end-to-end encryption for voice calls. Red Phone is currently in beta release. If you want to try it out, join #whispersystems on irc.freenode.net. An Egypt-specific version of the app was rolled out to aid activists there during the recent protests. Whisper System’s other app, TextSecure, encrypts texts for your phone, meaning you can send and receive securely. According to the release, “all text messages sent or received with TextSecure are stored in an encrypted database on your phone, and text messages are encrypted during transmission when communicating with someone else also using TextSecure.”
Note: Just because Android devices seem to offer more security options via these apps does not make them void of security flaws. Chris Palmer of the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that compared to computer operating systems, "mobile systems lag far behind the established industry standard for open disclosure about problems and regular patch distribution." He points out that versions of Android from carriers like HTC and Verizon may have features that aren't secure. Learn more by checking out his detailed post here.
3. Nonprofit Friendly
Android has a handful of nonprofit-friendly apps that allow users to make donations within an app. In late December, Benevity Social Ventures launched the Givatron, an open-choice charitable giving application that lets users find and make mobile donations of any amount to any registered charity in the United States and Canada. PayPal's Android app also has a donate feature that lets you select charities to give funds to. MissionFish is used to vet the featured charities and process payments.
On the other hand, under Apple’s current policy, users cannot donate to a nonprofit using charity apps on the iPhone. Prospective donors using an app must be redirected out of the app and to an outside website to give. At the end of 2010, Beth Kanter, chief executive of Zoetica, took up a new cause: petitioning Steve Jobs and Apple to make the iPhone more nonprofit friendly. So far the petition has over 25,000 signatures.
4. Greater Variety of Devices at Different Price Points
Unlike Blackberry or Apple, the Android operating system is available on a number of different handset, including those made by HTC, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, and Huawei, giving users a variety of devices to choose from. The number of apps being developed for the Android Marketplace is growing at an exponential rate as well.
5. Growth in Emerging Markets
Nokia's Symbian platform is the leader in emerging markets, but Android hopes to expand its marketshare in India, Asia, and Africa. At the Mobile World Congress, Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced that 300,000 Android devices are activated daily, making it the fastest-growing mobile operating platform in the world. While the cost of a smartphone is the greatest barrier to ownership, hopefully the expansion of Android into new markets will drive prices down.
Ory Okolloh, Google Africa's Policy Manager and co-founder of Ushahidi, recently asked on Twitter: What features must an Android phone have in order to be successful in the emerging markets? Reponders noted the need for a low cost device with a strong battery, security baked in, proper multilingual support, dual SIM and a good camera.
Do you use an Android device? What made you choose the Android operating system over others? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!