What if the San Bernardino shooters had been using a Samsung Galaxy phone? As Apple continues to butt-heads with the FBI over unlocking the iPhone of terrorist shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, some debate followers have raised the question: what if the phone in question was an Android device, such as a Samsung Galaxy S6?
Given that Samsung is the most popular smartphone maker after Apple, according to comScore, that’s a very logical question to ask. Although Apple and Samsung are close rivals in the marketplace, there are key differences between them.
Does it matter who makes the phone?
Yes, it does. Apple controls both the hardware and software of its devices. Samsung, however, only has control of its hardware as do most smartphone makers, and does not make its Android operating system. Android OS is primarily developed by Google, and smartphone makers then customize the operating system to fit their preferences.
Apple’s latest devices are encrypted. Are the latest Android devices encrypted as well?
No, not yet. While Google has supported encryption, it has yet to trickle-down into the hands of consumers. Although Google has offered encryption as an Android OS option for a few years now, until recently implementation has been voluntary and up to manufacturers to configure.
Googles latest operating system, Marshmallow, requires companies to offer encryption by default – if the phone meets the technical requirements and can encrypt data without hurting its performance. Phones that don’t fall into this category or that run an older OS would have encryption only if users decided to turn-it-on. It a user upgrades to Marshmallow from a previous system, they also have to turn-on-encryption themselves.
This means that most Android devices are probably not encrypted, and only 1.2% of Android smartphones on the market are even running Marshmallow. Also keep in mind that Google has very little control over how and when phones get updated to the latest system; smartphone manufacturers and mobile carriers control that.
So hypothetically; how would the FBI get into an encrypted Samsung Galaxy S6?
According to a Samsung spokeswoman, the encryption option is turned-on by default for the Galaxy S6 – and the forthcoming Marshmallow-powered Galaxy S7 – it should be on-by-default as well.
In such a scenario, the government would be unlikely to go Google for help, said Chis Soghoian, principle technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. Not only is the Android landscape complicated, but smartphone manufacturers, not Google, are in charge of signing the security certificates that prove their software is authentic.
So for Android, it comes down to the phone’s manufacturer?
Yes, that appears true, particularly if the government wanted to have a company make new software specifically to defeat security measures, as it does in the Apple case. “If the government wanted the type of help it’s asking from Apple, it would go to Samsung rather than Google,” Soghoian says. “It would be up to Samsung, as the phone manufacturer, to determine how much help it would give and whether to put up the same fight as Apple.
Where do Samsung and other phone manufacturers fall in this debate?
A Samsung spokeswoman sent us the following statement, noting specifically that the creation of back-doors – changes to software that allows government access – could be bad for its reputation:
Ensuring trust in our products and services is our top priority. Our phones are embedded with encryption that protects privacy and content, and they do not have backdoors. When required to do so, and within the law, we work with law enforcement agencies. However, any requirement to create a backdoor could undermine consumers’ trust.
In other words – like nearly every tech company – Samsung seems to evaluate these things case-by-case.
Read Article (Tsukayama - Peterson | washingtonpost.com | 03/02/2016)
Individual Privacy has always been high-priority in Europe and however the Apple vs FBI drama plays out, individual privacy in America will inevitably increase. There are obviously those that may not see it now, but that is a good thing.
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