Mobile Phones – 2

Mobile Phones – you either love them or hate them.  Over 96% of us love them.  But how are they affecting us?  When you consider how much time and money you spend on them, it can be a very expensive.  So, why do we use them.  Understandably, they are useful for telling someone an important message, either by text of voice.  But, do we really need all those apps, which take up so much space and add to your costs?  By using them, they cut down the amount of them you spend communicating with those physically around you.  Why do we need to spend so much time texting or speaking to each other when it is more beneficial spending quality time with them face to face?  Obviously, that is not easy if family and friends live far away.  There has been a serious increase of people being lonely, and I think overusing our mobile phones is part of the problem, along with many other reasons.

With regard to children, I question whether they need a mobile phone at all times, especially as that means people do not talk to each other in the home and spending time with each other.  They probably are the biggest users of mobile phones and have the most apps.  An idea would be that children hand in their phones as they arrive at school and are given them back at the end of the day.  And whilst at home, they are not allowed to use them during meal times and when they have homework.

Internet banking is very popular, whether on the computer or on mobile phones. Unfortunately, despite the claims by financial institutions that there systems are very secure.  If we remember a number of banks have had their systems hacked and money stolen (. (. Digital thieves are getting very sophisticated!  I refuse to use internet banking because of this issue.  And, I will not use my debit card online or on a mobile phone because of the security problem, only a credit card, especially as you are protected by insurance.

X – Read further on this issue – X 

‘A recent study by has revealed that the average person spends 90 mins a day on their phone.

That figure may not sound like a lot but that amounts up to 23 days a year and 3.9 years of the average person’s life is spent staring at their phone screen.

So what do we spend all that time doing?

Considering its called a mobile ‘Phone’, using our mobile device to call people was actually the sixth most used function after other activities such as checking social media and gaming. Web browsing came top of the list with people spending 24% of their mobile usage time browsing the web, closely followed by time spent on apps.

With smart phones now offering alternatives for everyday household products from recipes books to flashlights, they are making other traditional devices obsolete. With 57% of people now saying they have no need for an alarm clock and 50% of people no longer wearing watches as their mobile phone is their first choice for knowing what time it is.

And it’s not only when we are awake that we are increasing our smart phone usage with sleep help apps now available, it is even creeping into our sleeping time. With the amount of things we now we rely on our smartphone to do, our amount of time attached to our phones is only going to increase. How many years of our lives will we spend on mobile phones in 10 years time?’

Also see

World Health Organisation

Online Q&A
20 September 2013

Q: What are the health risks associated with mobile phones and their base stations?

A: This is a question which WHO takes very seriously. Given the immense number of people who use mobile phones, even a small increase in the incidence of adverse effects on health could have major public health implications.

Because exposure to the radiofrequency (RF) fields emitted by mobile phones is generally more than a 1000 times higher than from base stations, and the greater likelihood of any adverse effect being due to handsets, research has almost exclusively been conducted on possible effects of mobile phone exposure.

Research has concentrated on the following areas:

  • cancer
  • other health effects
  • electromagnetic interference
  • traffic accidents.

Based on mixed epidemiological evidence on humans regarding an association between exposure to RF radiation from wireless phones and head cancers (glioma and acoustic neuroma), RF fields have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B). Studies to date provide no indication that environmental exposure to RF fields, such as from base stations, increases the risk of cancer or any other disease.

Other health effects

Scientists have reported other health effects of using mobile phones including changes in brain activity, reaction times, and sleep patterns. These effects are minor and have no apparent health significance. More studies are underway to try to confirm these findings.

Electromagnetic interference

When mobile phones are used very close to some medical devices (including pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, and certain hearing aids) there is the possibility of causing interference with their operation. The risk is much reduced for 3G phones and newer equipment. There is also the potential of interference between mobile phones signals and aircraft electronics. Some countries have licensed mobile phone use on aircraft during flight using systems that control the phone output power.

Traffic accidents

Research has shown an increased risk of traffic accidents, some 3-4 times greater chance of an accident, when mobile phones (either handheld or with a “hands-free” kit) are used while driving due to distraction.


While an increased risk of brain tumours from the use of mobile phones is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. In particular, with the recent popularity of mobile phone use among younger people, and therefore a potentially longer lifetime of exposure, WHO has promoted further research on this group and is currently assessing the health impact of RF fields on all studied endpoints.

What is phone hacking?

Phone hacking generally means the access of voice messages held by the phone service on their servers.

This is done without accessing the physical phone handset.

The hack relies on many people not changing the default pin number on the voice message service, or using a simple to guess pin. To make it easier for the hackers service providers did not lock the message box if the pin was entered incorrectly a number of times.

Always change the default pin number. And try to make it something difficult to guess.

About phone hacking

In the UK phone hacking came to prominence during the scandals in which it was alleged (and in some cases proved in court) that newspapers were involved in the accessing of mobile phone voicemail messages of the British Royal Family, other public figures, and members of the public.

Fixed line phone hacking

Fixed line phone hacking can also mean intercepting telephone calls to listen to the call in progress. This can be done by placing a recorder on the physical telephone line, or by placing a recorder or short range transmitter in the telephone handpiece.

Mobile phone hacking

Mobile phone hacking can also mean:

  • intercepting mobile telephone calls to listen to the call in progress
  • taking covert control of the mobile phone to receive copies of text messages and other activity, and to remotely listen to activity around the phone

This is done by installing software on the phone to provide the functionality that is remotely accessed. The phone user is not aware of the operation of the software. Information is sent using the phone data capability and is not readily identifiable from the phone bill.

There are also flaws in the implementation of the GSM encryption algorithm which allow passive interception. The equipment needed can be built from freely available parts and designs are available on the internet. Mobile operators are updating the encryption software to overcome this flaw but it has yet to be updated by all operators.

Another approach is called bluesnarfing, which is unauthorized access to a phone via Bluetooth. This can only be done by someone close to the mobile phone due to the short range of bluetooth.

Guarding against unauthorised voicemail access

Security of any device is a compromise between ease of use and security. Generally the easier to use then the less secure. Many electronic devices, such as mobile phones, the ease of use is a prime consideration. Security is an ‘inconvenience’ that the user does not want.

The consequence of this is that the devices and services can often easily be hacked. If you want high security expect to have some inconvenience. Until such times as we are all ’chipped’ at birth, as many pet dogs are, we will have to put up with the inconvenience of passwords and authentication devices if you want good security.

The password is the weakness in the security of voicemail systems. Mobile phones allow access to voicemail messages via a fixed line telephone, requiring the entry of a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to listen to the messages. Many mobile phones are supplied with a factory default PIN which not all voicemail systems force to be changed on first use. These default numbers are available on the internet. You MUST always change the default PIN / password.

Research has shown that the most common PIN numbers are “1234” and “0000”. Year of birth, graduation, marriage, birth of child are also common. These are all numbers that are easy to guess if someone knows some background information about you.

You should use a ‘strong’ PIN. That is a ‘random’ set of numbers that are easy for you to remember but not easy for other people to guess. If you have concerns that your voicemail has been accessed then change the PIN immediately. Also consider changing it regularly. The downside to this is that you have to remember the new PIN.

We all have many PINs and passwords. There is a temptation to make them all the same. Do NOT. If one PIN / password is discovered it would give someone access to other services / accounts belonging to you if they were the same.

Although it is inconvenient to have multiple PINs never use the same PIN on two services. Be honest do you have all your credit / debit card PINs set the same? If yes, then now might be a good time to change them to different numbers.

Can suppliers do more?

There are a number of actions that suppliers can take:

  • force change of PIN when voicemail service is activated
  • disallow common PINs such as “1234” and “0000”
  • force longer PINs of more than 4 digits
  • lock an account when the PIN is entered incorrectly a number of times

Some mobile phone companies are tightening their security. However there is a reluctance as many users do not like the inconvenience of security.

If you want good security expect to have inconvenience.


Phone hacking is a form of surveillance, and is illegal in many countries unless it is carried out as lawful interception by a government agency.

In the UK phone hacking is an offence.

Also see on banking using your mobile phone.

And this   on tracking people using mobile phones

And this on mobile phone charges

Mobile Phones – 1

I have been watching a gripping series called ‘The Widow’ about a grieving wife who goes in search of her husband, who she originally thought was dead, but then was seen in a video three years later.  Most of the story is set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country suffering from conflict and corruption on an unimaginable scale.  In the last episode, there was a short film showing the process in making your mobile phone ( which started with the terrible conditions that Congolese men, women and young children have to work in.  That was a theme throughout the series, acting as the backdrop to the main story.

Now, most of us has one or more mobile phones.  In fact over 60% of the world’s population has a mobile phone!  It is about time that the public write to the various mobile phone makers (like Samsung, Apple and to all the other firms, especially the Chines ones) to demonstrate how they are taking action to improve the working conditions and pay of those who mine the cobalt, as well making sure only those over the age of 16 are working, so that all children can be encouraged to get an education (they probably will need financial help in this). (See

Cobalt, apparently can cause skin problems.  And for those working in the mines , it can cause breathing problems from the dust, as well as other conditions (  It also has an effect on the environment as large amounts seep into the local rivers, killing fish and other animals which drink the water, as well as humans (

Below is an article from the Guardian newspaper published in 2018

Stones are rinsed and sorted near a Congo cobalt mine. More than 60% of the world’s cobalt comes from the south-eastern provinces of DRC.
Until recently, I knew cobalt only as a colour. Falling somewhere between the ocean and the sky, cobalt blue has been prized by artists from the Ming dynasty in China to the masters of French Impressionism. But there is another kind of cobalt, an industrial form that is not cherished for its complexion on a palette, but for its ubiquity across modern life.
This cobalt is found in every lithium-ion rechargeable battery on the planet – from smartphones to tablets to laptops to electric vehicles. It is also used to fashion superalloys to manufacture jet engines, gas turbines and magnetic steel. You cannot send an email, check social media, drive an electric car or fly home for the holidays without using this cobalt. As I learned on a recent research trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this cobalt is not awash in cerulean hues. Instead, it is smeared in misery and blood.
Elodie is 15. Her two-month-old son is wrapped tightly in a frayed cloth around her back. He inhales potentially lethal mineral dust every time he takes a breath. Toxicity assaults at every turn; earth and water are contaminated with industrial runoff, and the air is brown with noxious haze. Elodie is on her own here, orphaned by cobalt mines that took both her parents. She spends the entire day bent over, digging with a small shovel to gather enough cobalt-containing heterogenite stone to rinse at nearby Lake Malo to fill one sack. It will take her an entire day to do so, after which Chinese traders will pay her about $0.65 (50p). Hopeless though it may be, it is her and her child’s only means of survival.
More than 60% of the world’s supply of cobalt is mined in the “copper belt” of the south-eastern provinces of DRC. According to the government agency charged with oversight of the informal or “artisanal” mining sector, at least 20% of this supply is mined by locals like Elodie, called creuseurs. The remainder is produced by industrial mines that are typically operated by foreign companies following the collapse of the state-owned mining concern, Gécamines.
Across the south-eastern provinces, I observed that Chinese companies run many of the industrial mines in the region. The Chinese also appear to run most of the “buying houses” that purchase cobalt from children like Elodie. Every one of the 23 buying houses I documented in detail were operated by the Chinese, and I must have seen a hundred more with Chinese traders inside.
Chinese processors then mix cobalt from industrial and artisanal sources during a preliminary refining stage to produce crude cobalt hydroxide, which they drive to ports at Dar es Salaam and Durban for export to China.
After additional refining in China, the cobalt is sold to major component manufacturers and consumer electronic companies across the world.
Such companies are collectively worth trillions of dollars. Yet according to Amnesty International in a report at the end of 2017, none of them are making sufficient efforts to ensure that their riches are not being built on the backs of the oppressed women, men and children of the Congo who toil in putrid conditions, endure pitiful wages, grave injury and risk death to mine their cobalt.
I documented the horrors at 31 artisanal mining sites in the south-eastern provinces, including several previously undocumented sites in remote mountains near the Zambian border. Based on the data I gathered, I estimate there are more than 255,000 creuseurs mining cobalt in DRC, at least 35,000 of whom are children, some as young as six.
While market prices of cobalt have spiked 300% in the past two years, none of that increase makes its way down to creuseurs like Arthur. The 16-year-old boy joined a group of young men who spent two months digging a tunnel 26m straight down before they hit a heterogenite vein. Now they descend into darkness each day, spending up to 24 hours at a time in narrow tunnels unable to stand, hacking away for cobalt. Every minute is suffused with dread, because many tunnels have collapsed in Kasulo, burying alive everyone inside.
At the surface, I follow the men from Arthur’s tunnel with several sacks of cobalt to one of the dozens of Chinese buying houses nearby. The entire neighbourhood has in fact been walled off, in an effort to keep people from documenting the perilous conditions.
The cobalt under Kolwezi is purer than at Elodie’s site, so the traders at the nearby buying house pay a higher rate for each kilogramme. It works out to roughly $1.80 a day in income for Arthur, but he is unlikely to get to keep all of it. Numerous local creuseurs told me that children like Arthur are forced to pay bribes to the local government functionaries who are supposed to ensure there are no children working at sites like Kasulo.
In mine after mine, I witnessed heartrending suffering at the bottom of global cobalt supply chains.
The companies that source cobalt from DRC are surely aware of the appalling conditions under which the mineral is mined in some sites in the country. Aside from the Amnesty reports, labour abuses linked to cobalt mining in the region have been widely documented by human rights groups and by media organisations across the world.
Yet while major consumer electronic and automobile brands state they do not tolerate child labour in their supply chains, none have invested enough resources or time into ensuring that they can adequately address the human rights abuses that could be lurking in the products they sell to millions across the world. They have consistently shifted responsibility for human rights abuses in the Congo on to their Chinese suppliers.
In the absence of full accountability, suffering can run riot. No company should be able to jettison their responsibility for the vicious and unjust treatment of the people who mine cobalt and other minerals simply because they are separated from them by a few thousand miles, and a few layers in their supply chains.
From stone to phone, they must be accountable.
Any company sourcing cobalt from DRC must establish an independent, third-party system of verification that all mineral supply chains are cleansed of exploitation, cruelty, slavery, and child labour. They must invest whatever is needed to ensure the decent pay, safe and dignified working conditions, healthcare, education and general wellbeing of the people whose cheap labour they rely on.
There is little we can do as consumers at present, apart from refusing to buy their products until they take sufficient action.
A gust of wind swept across Elodie’s mine, swirling toxic dust over every inch of child and infant. Her son awoke, crying meekly. She wiped the grit from his face and sat in the dirt to feed him.
She asked me what I was going to do when I left her and her baby.
I wanted to tell Elodie I would try to help. I wanted to tell her that despite all the evidence to the contrary, there were people in the world who cared about her and her son.
But I left in silence. I knew these words would be worthless.
Siddharth Kara is an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health (
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