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On Giving Light Phone my Contacts List

This week, I received feedback on a point I made in my Light Phone 2 article, published over a year ago. While the comment's tone was provocative (Reddit), the writer's point was worth consideration.

In my review of the LP2, I wrote that:

Management of software has to be done via the Light Phone's 'Dashboard'. There have been some experiences with contacts importing incorrectly via the dashboard.

The reader points out that handing your contacts list over to a company is not something privacy bloggers should encourage.

NOTE: During the drafting of this post I received an email from David W. from the Light Phone company, assuring me no data on the user dashboard is used. See 'update 2' at the end.

Digital minimalism is not privacy

I try to make it clear in my blog that I never set out to advise people on digital privacy practices, and regularly emphasise that my blog is a journal of my own experiences. I document the things I have tried, and write about what worked and what didn't work.

However, there does come a point where the collective body of the articles on the blog could be read as advice about best practices. I'm sure I have also slipped into an advisory tone on occasion.

The reader's feedback exposed a blind spot in my thinking, which is that, while they often get thrown into the same basket of good digital practice, privacy and minimalism are not the same.

A minimalist tool that helps me spend less time on the Internet is not necessarily privacy friendly. This is a true distinction.

Contacts list on the LP2 Dashboard

With that in mind, let's take the example of how your contacts are managed on the Light Phone 2, which is what instigated the response from the reader.

One of the quirks of the LP2 is that you cannot manage tools and data on the device itself. Instead, you have to log into your account on the Light Phone Dashboard, upload audio files, add or remove tools, and add or delete contacts there. You then need to wait for your hardware device to be updated from the Light Phone server.

With the address book in particular, this raises a valid question: What happens to my contacts when I upload these to the Light Phone server? Light Phone is a company, and, while they do have a privacy policy on their website, the language in it is not as clear as it could be for a device that has potential reach within privacy communities.

It is not clear whether the light Phone's operating system and software are open source either. Here's an example of one of many discussions on that topic. Surprisingly, the FAQ on their website does not address this issue.

Benefits of digital minimalism for privacy

Intuitively, digital minimalism practices seem good for privacy. Carrying a Light Phone (or a Nokia feature phone, or a Punkt phone, or no phone at all) has reduced my daily dependence on smartphones hugely. A smartphone is where some of the worst privacy breaches take place, because we tend to download and engage with multiple apps while having no idea what these do behind the scenes with our data.

Many of us spend large portions of our day outside the home. Carrying a minimalist phone means that I cannot access a browser or social media during all of that time. I could access the Internet on work computers, but don't want to, in order to maintain my digital privacy.

Are contact lists on feature phones ever private?

This line of thinking led me to a bigger question: what happens to the contact lists of those who choose to carry any type of feature phone? Do we always hand over your contacts to the company, or is there a private way?

With this question, I need some help understanding how feature phone companies work. Hoping to learn more, here are three things that I wonder about:

First, I'm going to assume that the company you've bought your SIM card with will have some insight into your contacts, whatever device you store them on. My SIM card comes from our Internet Service Provider. Having carefully read their privacy policies and requested information about my data, they pretty much take everything they can get. It seems that normal SIM card users cannot avoid sharing their contacts list with at least one company.

Second, I wonder what else happens with my contacts data when I use a Nokia or any other basic 'brick' phone as my daily driver. Will Nokia be able to see and use my contacts? Feature phones all have their own proprietary operating systems. The Nokia I used ran KaiOS.

Third, a more specific concern. What about the Punkt. MP02 that I reviewed recently as a potential feature phone for children? Looking over their home page with fresh eyes, I see lots of blurbs about features and leading a minimalist lifestyle, but no mention of privacy in the narratives on the home pages. Punkt.'s Features page has one sentence on security, but nothing on privacy.

I'm surprised I missed that when I wrote the Punkt. review. I just assumed that a digital minimalism company would make a product to promote the full package of digital health, which, in my mind at least, includes user privacy. That assumption was wrong.

I now also wonder if digital minimalism product companies get a free ride on the privacy community bus. I can't be the only person who has presumed an overlap between digital minimalism and digital privacy that isn't necessarily there.


I will leave a separate section below my conclusion for responses from Light Phone to my questions. I will update as I receive them.

If you have read my blog for a while, you may know my stance on steelmanning opposing views. Everyone has blindspots in their long-held opinions, and the only way to get over these is to examine the best arguments for the opposing side. This need not feel personal and is worth the investment.

I appreciate this reader taking time to comment. The essential point was rational and therefore helpful to me. Finding a constructive, grown-up tone is each commenter's own problem.

I don't know if I will have the time or the energy to revisit past articles—this is my 100th post!—in order to correct presumptions about a non-existent overlap between minimalism and privacy, but I will certainly pay attention moving forward!

Finally, a note about the new product. Light Phone fans will know the LP 3 was recently announced. It looks chunky. I don't need it right now.

With its small size and limited hardware features, the LP2 is a potentially enduring product. On the LP3 page, the company writes:

Planned obsolescence remains an outrage to us. With software we will continue to support our products as long as we can...

I hope the Light Phone 2 will be included in this suppor for many years to come.

Light Phone for comment (will be updated)

A CTRL-F searches on Light Phone's privacy policy for 'contacts,' 'address book,' and 'open source' yield no results. I have reached out to them about this, and asked what exactly they do with my contact details.

Update 2 - personal reply (next day)

This is the reply I received from David W. from Light Phone:

We don't do anything with your dashboard information. Any contacts you add are simply saved in our dashboard, and sync to the phone. That's it. I forwarded your note about a paragraph specific to contacts and address book in the privacy policy.

Going on trust for now (we kind of have to in the end), that is reassuring. I hope they commit to these claims in writing and will publish an updated privacy policy soon.

Update 1 - autoreply (same day)

**Light support page

I received an automated reply to my request for information, directing me to the Light support page, which is searchable.

A search for 'privacy' results in other pages (which I have to browse through myself for the term 'privacy' but ok), including the pages on the 'Directory Tool' and the 'Directions Tool'. These are both optional plugins for finding information and directions in your area. The Directions Tool page has the following paragraph on privacy, which is very similar to that on the Directory Tool page:

We've built the Directions tool, like all of our tools, with privacy as a priority. Light does not have access to any location info or logs of your trip history. These trips are handled privately without user identification using our navigation partner HERE.

That sounds promising. However, my search for 'privacy' on the support page did not lead to any references to my contacts list.

A search for 'contacts' leads to too many pages to check. This is where the support search tool fails in not highlight the locations of the search term or showing a short contextual blurb including the searched term below each link.

The 'Importing Contacts' page does not discuss privacy or data protection. The suggested general overview page about contacts again doesn't direct me to privacy within that subset of pages to read; it's too much to go through.

A search for 'open source' results in too many pages to read through. Browsing the titles, I see none that suggest an article focused on my question about open source software. The 'Software Versions & Change Log' article on the 4th page doesn't mention the phrase open source.


'Light Phone 2 Experiences' Reddit discussion

Light Phone FAQ

Light Phone privacy policy

'Does the LightPhone run an open-source OS?' Reddit discussion

Punkt. homepage

Punkt. Data Protection Policy — nothing on contacts list or address book that I can find

-----Discuss on Reddit-----

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#digitalminimalism #digitalprivacy #dumbphone #featurephone #lightphone #punkt #review