I’ve resisted hacking my phone for a long time because, well, I want it to be a phone and not yet another computer for me to manage. But the latest nonsense with the piece of shitCarrier IQ virus is unbearable and pushed me over the edge.
For my normal friends who don’t keep up with understandably nerdy topics such as this, the summary is that:
- many smartphones include a nasty piece of code called Carrier IQ that can track all your SMS, your calls, your every keystroke, and upload that to your wireless provider
- Carrier IQ is on both Android and Apple phones, although reportedly it has been removed from recent iOS builds
- Carrier IQ is confirmed to be on Sprint and AT&T Android phones
It is completely unclear what data is being recorded and sent back to Big Brother. You just have to trust Sprint when they claim they are being responsible stewards of your data.
Excuse me while I shit dysenteric diarrhea (and sprinkle in extra amoebas for dramatic effect) into a gallon-size freezer-safe Ziploc bag and mail it to my good friends in Overland Park, KS.
I mean, the unremovable, botched abortion apps they force onto you, such as the NASCAR wart, the crashy Sprint TV dung pile, the oozing pus of a football app, were bad enough, but at least you could mostly ignore them (except when you got mysterious random notifications that the Sprint TV app crashed again without you ever touching it).
And to lump another piece of garbage like Carrier IQ in there… I would pretend to be shocked that a cellular carrier would show such a level of disrespect for its customers, but why bother.
Anyhow, enough of the ranting. Here’s how to completely re-install your phone with something called CyanogenMod which is Android without the crap. Let’s not delude ourselves — using a cell phone means you’re sending data to Big Brother, but at least with CyanogenMod, you can get a bit of a choice in what you send.
Update: Slate asks if you should even care and Manjoo comes to the same conclusion: it’s the lack of transparency that rankles.
Update 2:: Dan Rosenberg does more research on what CIQ can and cannot do. Great analysis, but as he notes, it only applies to one handset (Samsung Epic 4G Touch) on one carrier (unnamed). Carriers can apparently make CIQ do different things, so who knows what was happening on my HTC Evo 4G on Sprint? We simply don’t know. To reiterate: it’s the lack of transparency that alarms me.
Anyhow… These instructions assume Linux.
- Download and run revolutionary. Be sure to run it with sudo, else your phone will reboot into fastboot (as expected) but your computer will just sit there waiting for something (unexpectedly). When revolutionary (on the PC side) prompts you whether you want to install ClockWorkMod, say yes.
- revolutionary will automatically complete on the PC side, and your phone will be sitting there with a white screen and some menu options. On your PC, download the Superuser app. Do not unzip it; just leave it there for now.
- On your phone use the volume key to navigate to the “bootloader” menu item, then select “recovery”. Your phone will reboot into the ClockWorkMod screen, which has a dark background.
- In the ClockWorkMod menu, select the “mounts & storage” menu item, then “mount USB”. This will make your phone appear as a drive on your PC
- Copy the Superuser zip file from above onto your phone. You can just drop it into the root directory, you don’t need to put it into a folder.
- Unmount the phone from the PC
- On the phone, go back to the top level menu, and then select “install zip from sdcard”. With some intelligent guessing, you should eventually be able to select the Superuser zip file on the phone; select it and install it.
- After this is complete, you can reboot your phone.
You have now gained root on your phone, which gives you special magical powers. It is time to use your new magical powers to install CyanogenMod. But first, back your phone up. Some recommended apps are:
- Titanium Backup
- SMS Backup & Restore
- Call Backup & Restore
I also had my phone set to sync all my contacts with my Google account.
Once you’re reasonably confident you have your data backed up, you’re ready to install CyanogenMod. This will obviously wipe out your entire phone and void your warranty, but hey you don’t have to be annoyed at the infuriatingly uninstallable NASCAR app on your phone anymore.
- Install CyanogenMod on your phone. You can find it in the Market.
- Download latest image onto your PC
- Copy the zip file onto your sdcard again, by mounting your phone in your PC
- Launch the CyanogenMod app, and find the zip file.
- After some intelligent menu guessing, your phone should reboot and install CyanogenMod.
- Important: be sure to select “wipe data/factory reset” and “wipe cache” in the install, else your phone will hang on reboot
You’re done. Hopefully you can restore your data from backups.
After playing with it for an afternoon, Cyanogen is actually a lot nicer than the HTC Sense interface.
And, you get USB internet tethering for free. Woo!
If you run into errors, ask for help in either #revolutionary or #cyanogenmod on freenode. Good luck!