11
Aug
OFF Pocket

Note from Artem: Mark Murphy, also known as CommonsWare and CommonsGuy, is one of the top 10 contributors to StackOverflow (he's currently #8). He's the Chuck Norris of Android development, with over 300,000 StackOverflow reputation points. I am honored by his decision to accept my offer to join the AndroidPolice team of contributors.

The User Defense series of posts will highlight relatively easy ways in which users can improve the privacy and security of their use of Android devices.

People sometimes worry about so-called "tracking cookies" that allow marketers to effectively spy on their Web surfing. Your smartphone is more or less a tracking cookie for the physical world, with everything from shopping malls to recycling bins tracking your movements.

Needless to say, some find this to be unnerving. Switching to airplane mode, or turning off your phone, in theory will stop this tracking. However, turning a phone off and on is rather slow, and there are concerns over whether everything truly shuts off in either case.

The OFF Pocket tries to address this.

Just as RFID-blocking wallets are designed to help secure your credit cards and such, accessories like the OFF Pocket aim to do the same for your smartphone. Simply sliding the phone into the OFF Pocket's sleeve is supposed to block all signals: WiFi, cellular, and GPS.

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The OFF Pocket, like many new accessories, is coming from a Kickstarter campaign, led by designers with past experience in anti-surveillance products, such as the anti-drone hoodie.

(Yes, there's an anti-drone hoodie.)

The OFF Pocket campaign has already met its funding goal of $35,000, with two weeks to go.

The makers of the OFF Pocket claim 100dB drop in signal strength (translation: it blocks signals really well), and it is certainly more convenient than carrying around a cocktail shaker or refrigerator for shielding your phone. On the other hand, it would be nice if there were a bit more independent testing of these claims, as at $85 for new Kickstarter backers, it is not inexpensive. With the right apps, it would be possible for a buyer to make some basic confirmations about signal strength as seen by the pocketed device, but, of course, that would be after the OFF Pocket was purchased.

The OFF Pocket will come in two sizes, with the larger size being suitable for a wide range of Android phones, though it's unclear if it will be large enough for phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note series.

The OFF Pocket is not the first product of its kind, as Disklabs Faraday Bags, among others, has had similar products for a while, making similar claims. However, the OFF Pocket happens to be arriving on the scene at an interesting time.

Ideally, these sorts of accessories would not be needed. That being said, the OFF Pocket and similar products should offer device owners greater control over when their device is visible to the world and, therefore, subject to tracking.

Source: Kickstarter, OFF Pocket

  • deadsix

    Does it not block 5 ghz Wifi? That frequency is getting more and more popular everyday. 802.11ac is 5ghz only.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Seems to be 2.4GHz only. I'm dumbfounded.

      • jammer

        The attenuation is probably much less at 5GHz. Not the 100dB stated earlier. Either way it should still work well. Depends on the shielding material they use at that point. I'd like to see one of these, but I certainly wouldn't care to use it.

  • jay

    if youre that worried about being tracked that you want to give up 100% of the phones functionality, why not leave the phone at home...or just use airplane mode.

  • Tim Minal

    I use disposable phones. *crack*

  • thiagomast3r

    This doesn't seem very efficient. Since you block the radio signal the phone will keep trying to connect to the radio cells, wasting battery on the process. Airplane mode seems a much better choice.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Yeah, I'm with you on that. It almost sounds like they can't come up with a good enough reason for why the OFF Pocket is better than airplane mode themselves:

      What is the difference between the OFF Pocket™ and airplane mode?
      Airplane mode works great in certain situations, but is software and hardware dependent. The OFF Pocket™ is software and hardware agnostic, meaning it does not matter which OS or phone you use, the OFF Pocket is compatible with all mobile phones so long as they properly fit inside. If you change carriers or switch phones, the OFF Pocket™ works equally well.

      Does it affect battery life?
      The effect of the OFF Pocket™ on your phone is no different than being in a location with no service. Having no signal may slightly increase or decrease battery life depending on your phone's hardware and software. Some phones will see an improvement in battery life since the phone is not transmitting data, while others may see a decrease in battery life because the phone continuously searches for signals. We will provide more data about this as research continues.

      Additionally, you can't really use the phone while it's in the sleeve, which you can do on airplane mode, and I'm not sure if 5GHz is blocked, so I have no idea who would want to use this.

      • ScottColbert

        It makes no sense either. Every phone has airplane mode, so that could also be considered software and hardware agnostic.

        • ProductFRED

          The last phone I remember owning that didn't was the Motorola RAZR V3 lol

      • mikeym0p

        I've run roms that weren't ported completely and airplane mode didn't work. There may be instances where a device says it's in airplane mode but makes secret communications with a server. It's part of the huge privacy trand that's been around now.

        • Leonardo Farage Freitas

          On my Galaxy Note 10.1 3g I stopped using the 3g (when I bought there wasn't much difference on the price between both models, 3g & non-3g, and long story short, I have a 3G enabled SIM card on my cellphone if I ever need it I can swap). I had this notion that airplane mode shuts all wireless stuff off. But I am able to use WIFI normally. Perhaps airplane mode is for the modem (GSM/CDMA/LTE...) only?

          Anyone ever tried it? It's was pure lack of attention. Normally I would turn airplane mode off and then turn the WIFI on.

          • squiddy20

            I just tried it, and turning on airplane mode turns off Wifi, at least on CM. I'm sure it's the same on other ROMs, but who knows.
            Now, I was able to turn Wifi on (and have it work) after turning on airplane mode, and in fact both icons (airplane and wifi) stayed in the notification bar.

          • Leonardo Farage Freitas

            Sorry, I forgot to mention the method. That is actually what I did also. Turning on Airplane mode shuts every wireless on the device (WIFI, Bluetooth, and so on).

            But I never had thought that turning on the WIFI would be possible, at least on my notion of what Airplane mode is..

          • Lumi

            In my Samsung stock rom, I can do that too. Useful when you don't want any sort of roaming at all, but still want to connect to Wifi where avaliable.

            Actually, airplane mode isn't actually that useful on airplanes now. All airlines I've been on don't allow you to even use the phone even though you are on airplane mode, and the ones that allow you to do it outside of landing and takeoff have on-board wifi and roaming.

          • Leonardo Farage Freitas

            I agree with you. It is very useful, but it didn't make sense to me until you mentioned airplanes with on-board wifi. Never heard of airplanes with it. Nice to know.

          • Lumi

            Well, it's on-board wifi, but it's not exactly FREE on-board wifi - unless, perhaps, you are on business/first class.

          • dennisnp

            You need a vacation Sir, fly away and find that airplanes do have Wifi...

          • Leonardo Farage Freitas

            Indeed you are right, sir. I do need a vacation.. a la Ferris Bueller..

          • Keg Man

            We used this on vacation. Mexico data/calls cost money so airplane mode it is. But hotel offers free wifi. Its genius.

          • mikeym0p

            It works on every android version, since 2.0 which is the earliest build I've used. You can also reenable NFC without disabling airplane mode.

          • Keg Man

            yep, this is exactly how android works, stock, custom rom etc. airplane turns it off initially, but you can turn wifi on while airplane is still on. Why? We used this on vacation. Mexico data/calls cost money so airplane mode it is. But hotel offers free wifi. Its genius.

          • ProductFRED

            On Android devices at least, turning on airplane mode shuts off all radios. Afterwards though, you can enable wifi (for example if you're traveling and not planning on buying a local sim or roaming)

          • mikeym0p

            No I know you can turn WiFi one while in Airplane mode. I've done it since I got an android. I'm saying, there is no way for the masses to know whether such a back door exists. Yes we can read the source code, but do you really expect 80% of the smartphone toting masses to know AOSP line for line.

            Also take into account the fact that OEMs can do what they wish to Android with little to no restriction from Google (aside from things that hurt app compatibility)

            I too am trying hard to see a purpose for this product and this is the only reason I can see such a product being imagined.

      • catiremedina

        As to who would want this, probably the same people that wear tinfoil hats.

        • PhilNelwyn

          Tinfoil hats.
          Anti-drone hoodies.

      • ArberBeq

        yeah but the thing is if the government wants to track you, they'll find a way even if you have airplane mode off. Maybe a virus that has your radio enabled but doesn't display it enabled or something

        • Mike Reid

          Yes. I have an app that can turn on Bluetooth, despite airplane mode.

          It's a root app, but NSA has no trouble getting root.

    • Brian Utne

      I have a feeling this is geared towards the less intelligent tech crowd..Good on them, there's more of them than there is of us..haha

    • TY

      It's for those special agents in Hollywood films. Perhaps they know that even when the phone is in "Airplane" mode, it isn't.

      Oh of course, Android is open source, so we don't have to worry at all. Those special agents can compile a ROM for themselves, just to be safe, lol.

    • HopelesslyFaithful

      well except the FBI probably has the ability to turn your phone from airplane to regular. It was just stated in the news that it was confirmed that the FBI can turn your android phone into a listening device

      • phanmo

        How does the FBI turn airplane mode off if the phone has no connection?

        "Excuse me sir, phone inspection... There, fixed that for you, nothing to see here..."

        Assuming airplane mode works as it's supposed to.

        • Mark Murphy

          Do it based on time. Turn airplane mode off, try to connect to the mother ship, then turn airplane mode back on if there are no directives to the contrary. Unless the user happened to turn on the screen during this window, they would be none the wiser. This wouldn't even be all that hard on Android 4.1 and below, as any app could toggle airplane mode IIRC.

        • Keg Man

          how do you update your cell tower data? The answer is: take battery out, take sim card out. Wait 5 minutes while your phone updates without battery in it. then put phone back together and your updated. how bout them apples? btw you should do this once a month for best cell reception

    • Dave

      Airplane mode is done via the phone and it can still turn on and track you if NSA wants without letting you know...

    • Vardan Nazaretyan

      With some modding in your ROM, you can make your phone to show Airplane mode is turned on, but it won't be turned on in reality(if governments want to track us, they can easily make OEMs update their software with such a modding). So the OFF Pocket, does help sometimes.

    • Mark Murphy

      According to one of the Kickstarter updates, on iOS, the device gives up aggressively searching for connections after a short while (probably via some sort of exponential backoff), and so battery use wasn't an issue: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/offpocket/off-pocket/posts/562447 That being said, the behavior of Android devices may differ.

  • DarrenR

    I dont want to spend that much on something I consider a novelty.

  • Pablo Mojica

    This is the equivalent to turning off your phone and/or taking battery out as precaution since you can't use it at the same time. and for almost $100? Really?

    I want peace and quiet, I turn off my phone and not worry about it.

    Re-think this. It won't last.

  • Owen Finn

    Do they make these in tin-foil hat editions as well?

  • Rob

    Or you can just sign up with Sprint. :P

    • SickoPsycho

      well said, sir.

    • HotInEER

      LMAO

  • MrNinjaPanda

    So wrapping your phone in tinfoil isn't enough anymore?

  • Ben Baranovsky

    I don't think AP readers who need connectivity 24/7 are their target market. :p

  • underleft

    Or you could just turn the phone.. off.

    • Keg Man

      they can still track your phone with the battery out of it

  • Yanic

    A phone thief dream accessory.

  • http://www.twitter.com/RaptorHawk Hawk

    LOL?

  • yuuber

    i understand you want your privacy but i think he is taking it a little to far....lol

  • Abhinav

    I just learned about https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager and bang I see this post. This post just nullifies what google just did there. Seems to be useful only for device thieves.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      And airplane mode doesn't?

      • Abhinav

        if you are quick to react, you still have chance to erase the data from the phone. (one could always hope can't we ?)

        yeah there are always ifs and buts for everything but still can't think of a situation where i would actually need one of these

  • Dogspurt

    Would wrapping the device in an envelope made of aluminium cooking foil work? They could be cheaply and easily home made.

  • talhamid

    Pay them $85 for your phone not to function as a phone.

  • Sancho

    I just found the best way to steal cellphones and not be tracked from the scene of the crime.

    • Vardan Nazaretyan

      Then, what's the point of stealing a phone, if you won't take it out of the bag and use it anyway?

  • PhilNelwyn

    Sorry, Chuck Norris wouldn't be #8...
    A big welcome to Mark Murphy.

    Back on topic, as it's been said already, I think this is for criminals, I don't see one reason for average people to use this.
    It defeats the purpose of mobile phones.

  • Felipe13

    hahahaaa...Is this a joke? The ad looks like something from snl or the onion.

  • bL4Ck

    thin foil hat syndrome

  • Amer Khaznadar

    Or just throw your phone into a chips bag, "Enemy of the State" style.

  • MerdescuRazvan

    Dude... you're gonna get followed anyway. Really don't want the NSA in your ass? Go get a Nokia 1100 and move to Africa.

  • Primalxconvoy

    Hang on, don't phones try and boost power to the antenna if they can't get a signal? If so, wouldn't a case like this cause the battery to drain quicker?

  • jim

    How do you recevie a phone call if you block signals? Why do we need a phone if you cannot recive calls??????

  • Ed Waters

    And for $25 I'll sell you a tinfoil hat that goes really nice with this useless "gadget". The developers are doing nothing more than playing to peoples fears to make a profit. As others have stated, Airplane mode works just fine.

  • Sihawk

    I'd buy this if it came with a tinfoil hat

  • atlouiedog

    Everyone seems to suggest something simple, like airplane mode instead. But if you're the target of a person or group who does want to track and monitor you then turning off airplane mode might be enough. They may have gotten to your phone and installed malware that makes it appear to be in airplane mode or turns your connections back on while the screen is off.

    Think about it, your significant other thinks your're cheating and installs such malware. In reality you're sneaking around to plan your 20th anniversary extravaganza surprise and don't want them tipped off so you can't exactly remove the malware either. What do you do? OFF Pocket. Just because it's for the very niche market of thoughtful people who have attached themselves to someone paranoid and untrusting doesn't make it a bad product.

    • qu4ttro

      Sir, your hat is ready...

  • retrospooty

    "He's the Chuck Norris of Android development"

    I dont get it. It's framed like a compliment. Is that a compliment or a sarcastic insult? LOL

  • Pete Tandon

    Mark Murphy is the best speaker, and android/developer advocate . Glad you guys are working together. I wish you all exponential success.

    • Mark Murphy

      Thanks for the kind words!

  • qu4ttro

    So...when did phones not include a power button??? or for those that can, remove the battery. Ill take 20 bucks of the 85 I just saved you.

  • John O’Connor

    Gotta love that Vatican styling.. lol This product deserves crucifixion.

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