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Edinburgh Fringe 2017

The Secret Life of Your Mobile Phone

The Secret Life of Your Mobile Phone

Genre: Spoken Word

Venue: theSpace on the Mile


Low Down

Interesting exposé of the footprint left by the ubiquitous mobile phone.  And turning it off won’t hide what you’re getting up to either.  You’ll need to stick it in a bucket of water to completely silence it.


Geoff White will be a familiar face to followers of Channel 4’s headline daily news programme.  His partner in this venture into the unknown that is the Fringe is Glenn Wilkinson who describes himself, amongst other guises, as an ethical hacker.  In other words, he’s the guy that’s invited in to check systems’ security by complacent corporates who suspect that ten year old operating networks that still rely on Windows XP might be a little vulnerable to the average teenage hacker.  NASA, for example.  Or British Airways.  Or the NHS.  Or almost anyone.

This show really is a step into the unknown as it is the audience, a completely unknown quantity, who supply almost all of the material each time these two guys stand up to deliver.  Well, Glenn mostly sits whilst Geoff chats away amiably, providing the perfect distraction to allow his sidekick to hack into the phones of everyone in the room.

For, unlike almost every other Fringe show, this is one where it’s compulsory to leave your phone on unless, like me, you still operate a Blackberry, in which case you’re advised to look for the nearest dustbin as it will never find a decent signal, let alone wifi connection in the confines of such a venue.

Aren’t people’s phones interesting though?  Each one leaves the factory looking and sounding just like its mate on the production line, but by the time their proud, new owner has finished with it, each is unique in terms of settings, content, look and feel, shortcuts and so on.  And are we attached to them, or what?  Data shows that 33% of adults look at their mobile phone within five minutes of waking up in the morning, which means that one in three of us take the darned things up to bed with us.  Whatever happened to teddy bears for comfort?

But the phone lives on a different existential level to its human carrier.  I say “carrier” and not owner because it will become clear to anyone attending this excellently delivered and very interesting talk that, unless you do something pretty quickly, your phone will control you, not the other way around.

Why?  Because it’s always on.  Even when it’s off.  It transmits all the time, sending little messages out into the ether for others to exploit.  Who gets the data?  Pretty much anyone and everywhere it appears.  Where does it go? All over the place.  What are the recipients doing with it?  Finding out about you, to exploit you through targeted advertising or some other means of providing you with a service you didn’t know you wanted.  Why do they collect it?  The guys claim to still be working on that one, but clearly know a lot more than they were prepared to pass on at this event.  For example, did you know that Facebook can hack into your account without the inconvenience of needing your password?  Scary stuff.

Convenience is the enemy of security. Phones are always looking around to see if they’ve visited a wifi hotspot near to where you are right now, reading this review.  If you have, your phone will remember it and log you on again.  So, using the data collected from the gullible now gawping at the extent of the information they freely give up to anyone and everyone, our hacking techie proudly revealed just where three unsuspecting members of the audience had spent their last holiday.

Cue three “volunteers” being frog-marched onto the stage for a five minute wifi session in which they generated over 100,000 packets of data, collectively enough information to allow any self-respecting marketer to build a pretty decent user profile at which adverts can be targeted.

But this data would also allow anyone else with more sinister motives to find out the what, where, and who behind the poor innocent tapping away. For each mobile has a unique ID which makes it easier to identify you than by taking your fingerprint.  Makes me glad I’ve got a Blackberry.  As it rarely functions, at least it can’t reveal what I’m up to.

Professionally researched and delivered, this is, I suspect, just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this duo know about the secrets of the mobile.  It’s frightening but revealing and a very educational and entertaining hour.  But let’s have some juicier secrets next year, please.