Yes, it’s scary that just two companies have a lock on an essential technology in your life. But as the smartphone dictators, Google and Apple can snap their fingers and make technology better for you.
For example, when Apple decided in 2021 that an app like Facebook must have your permission to track what you do in every other app on your phone, Apple’s unilateral action made long-standing digital surveillance practices more difficult.
One dictator changed how all apps operate, and it was a good thing.
It’s also great that Google and Apple are using their power as smartphone puppet masters to develop anti-stalking technology. Soon, any Android or iPhone — that is, all the phones — will alert you if someone is tracking your movements with a Bluetooth location monitoring device like Tile or Apple AirTag.
These are my three wishes of how else Google and Apple should use their dictatorship to make your tech better. Hate robocalls? Want your phone to be awesome for a decade? Keep reading.
1. Make your old smartphone work as well as new models
New releases of Android and iOS software are designed to work best on the newest phones. On an older model, updating to the latest operating system can make your phone feeeeel slooowwwww.
Google and Apple aren’t doing this maliciously, said Kyle Wiens, chief executive of the repair community and consumer advocacy group iFixit. But he said the companies should devote more resources to making their latest smartphone software as peppy on older devices as on the shiny new ones.
“All they need to do is tell the engineers to go make it fast, and the engineers will do it,” Wiens said.
If your five-year-old phone felt as zippy as the day you bought it, you might be happy using your gadget for longer. That’s good for your budget and the planet.
Wiens suggested that Apple and Google should give you the option of updating your phone’s software only with new security protections and skip the bells and whistles that might bog down your device. That approach is standard in other types of software, he said.
Wiens also wants Google and Apple to make operating system security protections available for phones up to 10 years old. Again, the goal is to give people the choice of keeping their phones for a long time.
Apple is already better about this than Google, but even Apple doesn’t let your decade-old iPhone upgrade to the latest version of iOS.
2. Make text messages secure and seamless for everyone
This one is a task for Apple alone.
The Messages chat app that’s standard on iPhones scrambles the content of your texts so hackers can’t intercept them and learn your secrets.
But the encryption security only works if you’re messaging with another iPhone user.
If you’re sending a text from your iPhone’s Messages app to your friend’s Android phone, the message is less secure and sometimes janky. Videos sent from Apple’s Messages app often come out squashed to a recipient with an Android phone, for example.
Apple executives have said for years that digital privacy is a fundamental human right. But Apple makes the privacy of your text messages a privilege only for iPhone owners.
Apple could choose instead to make seamless and secure chat messages for everyone right now.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook said last year that iPhone users don’t want the company to put a lot of energy into making seamless chats between iPhones and Android phones.
3. Help stop illegal robocalls
Chester Wisniewski, a digital security specialist with the firm Sophos, wants Google and Apple to do more to block unverified phone calls. He believes this one step could cut way down on scam robocalls.
Beginning in 2021, phone companies in the United States are supposed to verify that a phone call is coming from a legitimate working number. Spoof numbers pretending to be the IRS or calls about your car’s expired warranty are refused.
The volume of robocalls declined last year, according to telecom analysis firm Transaction Network Services. They are still a menace.
Apple and Android do some call verification on your phone already, and Apple works with a few mobile providers including Verizon to let you send suspected scam calls automatically to your voicemail.
Wisniewski believes it would be more effective if Apple and Google checked incoming calls against a national verified caller database and stopped unverified numbers from reaching your phone at all.
Some phone security experts told me Wisniewski’s idea might not be technically feasible. He also knows there is no single fix to end illegal robocalls.
But Wisniewski believes Google and Apple have the power to make robocall fraud far less common.
Tell me: What’s on your wish list of unilateral decrees from Apple and Google that could make your smartphone better? Maybe you miss the headphone jack? Email me at email@example.com
If you needed more reminders that the internet is full of garbage, a Twitter account on Monday tweeted a fake image that it said came from an explosion near the Pentagon.
Local authorities quickly said the information was false and that the Pentagon was safe.
That’s exactly what experts in viral misinformation say government officials should do: Debunk bogus information at internet speed.
You and I also have a role to play to make sure we don’t unwittingly spread lies that confuse or hurt people.
My colleague Heather Kelly has a great list of steps you can take if you’re not sure whether information you see online is true or false.
Heather’s best tip is a basic one: Be patient and be wary.
Social media is tailor made for you to post or reply without thinking too much. “Assume everything is suspect until you confirm its authenticity” with sources that you trust, Heather said.