After getting things mostly back to where they were, I had a jail-broken phone with ad-blocking software. The next task was to find some cool, prohibited apps and put it to The Man. Here’s a partial list of what I liked:
- Ad Blocker and Ad Blocker Networks — this was my first purchase. The latter, an additional add-on by the provider of the former, is a per-application blocker. While it helped with general ads, I could not get it to filter out the stuff from Cydia — which made adding apps nearly unusable.
- Location Spoofer – I bought this primarily to mess with a certain location-based social review application that rhymes with Kelp. It worked only for only two apps, failing completely for Hootsuite. The link to the developer’s site is dead, leading me to think it’s been abandoned for a long time.
- TetherMe — Tethering allows me to create a local wi-fi hotspot that I can connect my laptop to and access Teh InterNets via my cellular plan. This was useful when coming home from Chicago and my daughter wanted to check her email – I could set up a temporary hotspot for her to do her thing. I’ve also used it on occasion when I’m weary from doing battle with the hotel wifi. “But doesn’t Large Cellular Provider offer this?” you ask. Yes, but. Officially having this requires an upgrade to the “Enterprise” plan and the new, more expensive middle-tier of data, even though I’d continue to stay under my plan. Like SMS messaging, the Large Cellular Provider wants to charge again for a service they’re already providing. So for the scant occasions I need it, jailbreak it is.
- Browser Changer — Safari is a nice enough browser, but there are cases where another browser provides a more interesting interface… or ad blocking because I have fat fingers and inadvertently click on them. (Doing so can cause remarketing, that is, very similar ads appearing on other sites because they know you’re a live one.)
- f.lux — this adjust the phone’s lighting based on the time of day. The default is very, very white – fine for the daytime. But when I’m fiddling just before bedtime — and I really probably ought not — it’s a bit harsh on the eyes. This app adjusts a halogen or incadescent brightness as a reminder that it’s late.
- Auxo is an application switcher that also provides quick access to various system shortcuts. It’s kind of hard to explain without seeing/touching it, but it’s a pretty cool thing.
- Firewall – After lack of success with blocking GameCenter, I opted for a bigger gun. The firewall has way more interesting than I expected because phone applications are frequently laden with tracking and phoning home.
The firewall can log every TCP access apps make, which is a huge inconvenience when it prompts you each time. I started with some quick filtering, for obvious, good things (like my own website, email, etc), but made a few mistakes and missed some ad servers.
I’m still processing the firewall logs, but during the previous two weeks, over 2200 different sites/addresses were accessed in approximately ~90,000 network accesses. Just eyeballing the list, I can see many of the usual suspects in tracking and advertising metrics. There were a lot of *.compute-1.amazonaws.com accesses that will need investigation. The volume of information leakage is a concern.
In my most recent two weeks of logs, the top five chattiest apps:
- Pandora – at nearly 50% of the internet accesses, it’s top dog during my long days at work. It also pokes lt.andomedia.com for tracking purposes.
- Mail — ignoring the mail server itself, nearly every piece of corporate email is sent with embedded images, many used as part of tracking whether you’ve opened the email.
- TWC Max — the weather channel app
- Browser — I was using Maven+, however it phones home to its author’s web site (creamycheesy.com) a lot.
- Geosphere — a geocaching application I use. Most of the accesses came from bulk loading of caches as it tries to grab images.
Advantage of jail breaking:
- You have access to functions that Apple won’t permit you to purchase. Tethering is cool (and just worked with the iPad), but not worth $30/month extra for the once a month I’d use it. Ad-blocking, however, is so worth the faster response time.
Disadvantages of jail breaking:
- Stability. I’m not inhaling Apple’s Reality Distortion field when I say that my phone has many more forced reboots/slowdowns since jailbreaking. Some of these may be related to the firewall. Breaking things is what I do.
- No reviews. As often as iTunes reviews come across as anonymous, whiny whiners, the gestalt of accumulated reviews is still useful. If an application is really awful (e.g., Apple’s Podcasts) or has serious problems, it’s really obvious from the review distribution. The recency of reviews may also provide insight into applications that have been abandoned by their creator and are incompatible, such as happened with the location spoofing.
- The TiVo app detects I’ve Done Something and won’t let me stream my accumulated Person of Interest episodes. Seriously?
- Both Apple’s App Store and Big Boss are difficult to browse. Developers give meaningless names or rely on phonebook-style naming (e.g., A-Widget, so it appears at the top of the list). BigBoss doesn’t filter out the 1,236 tweaks, but because there’s no rating or download count, you’re left guessing.