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Mobile/Cellphone user profiles

They'd never allow this.
  [vote for,

In order to make it harder to crack, we have a PIN on our mobile 'phone. Obviously, we also have a SIM. These features are underexploited in a particular way. A SIM only carries the data belonging to a single subscriber and the PIN only allows one to log in to the 'phone itself. This need not be.

Imagine a shared 'phone. You log into it using your own personal PIN and it boots into your own user profile, with your own network, number, contract (or lack thereof) and address book. The SIM is virtualised to look different to the 'phone's O/S according to whose account is being used.

The data relevant to the user are stored remotely and downloaded into the 'phone according to who has logged in, so in fact there is no physical SIM but a virtual one. These are available on a card carried in the users purse/billfold/wallet.

Rather than owning a specific 'phone, entailing that a lost handset constitutes an inaccessible account, all you do is log into your account on a random handset of this type and it automatically behaves as if it's yours. Since there are no personal data on your 'phone, no-one can violate your privacy or run up bills. Several users could use the same handset, which is better from the point of view of resources or fuelling any civil wars.

Since i can't imagine a network provider or handset manufacturer supporting this, this would have to be an open source project, involving both hardware and operating system. I would suggest also that the 'phone is pretty basic, constituting just text messaging and voice calls without colour, changeable ring tones or anything else, thereby easing construction.

nineteenthly, Aug 04 2008


       "Since there are no personal data on your 'phone, no-one can violate your privacy or run up bills."
Unless they know your PIN. Or is your "virtualized SIM" unique to you?

       You'll also need some way to "log out" or release a phone for someone else's use.
phoenix, Aug 04 2008

       True, which you also have to do with a PC, so that's fine. The security of the PIN is no different than an ATM PIN. The virtualised SIM is indeed unique.
nineteenthly, Aug 04 2008

       If you lost or accidentally divulged your PIN, you could still be able to access your virtual SIM over some sort of backup question, and simply mark it unusable. The phone would periodically check its current SIM against a revocation list. That would be better security than we have now.   

       I think this would work, but I wonder how big the market is - phones are pretty personal items. The generations before me seem comfortable sharing one, but the generations after me pretty much consider it an implant...
jutta, Aug 04 2008

       [+] I like it! I'm not so sure that having shared cell phones is such a good idea in general but I would love to be able to borrow a friend's phone and virtually talk from my phone. There might be a few technical discrepancies when it comes to features (Like with Nextel's Direct Connect) but given that SMS/Tex messaging can go across to different carriers, I don't see why a "virtual phone" couldn't either.
Jscotty, Aug 04 2008

       The question I was asking, poorly, was: Is this virtual SIM a physical device you carry and insert into the phone, or is it a term for a group of personalization settings? As I understand it, the SIM is just a group of settings so, unless your PIN is huge, what stops me from grabbing a phone and trying differnt PINs until I find one that works? I think you need two factor authentication.   

       Two other issues, neither fatal:
1) Not all phones operate on all networks, so porting your carrier from phone to phone may not be possible. You'd need interoperability agreements or perhaps agree to pay a higher, non-subscriber rate, and
2) You need a third party, that all carriers can reach, to keep the list of PINs and personalization data.

       I agree with [jutta] that the market might not be huge, but within a family, 5 people could share 3 phones. Also, if I get mugged I can borrow a stranger's phone and make a call without him incurring any cost. Ostesibly my list of contacts would be part of the information downloaded when I log in so I don't even have to know my wife's work number. Just log in and pick her from the phone book.
phoenix, Aug 04 2008

       [Jutta], i agree that the youth of today consider cellphones to be personal, but they are also used to personalising the likes of Facebook and Myspace, so all it really involves is a shift between a personalised physical token to a virtual one. Due to that, it might make sense for the handset to be a little more sophisticated to increase the appeal through the likes of wallpaper and ringtones. My teenage daughter is very keen on this idea, and since she is part of the rising generation, that's evidence for it working for them.   

       [Phoenix], i understood your question but i kludged the answer because the truth is, i don't know. If it's a physical object there's less of a bandwidth problem and the handset is immediately useable. If it's virtual, as in online, there's a possible bandwidth overhead, reduced by the suggestion that the 'phone only has basic features so the likes of JPEGs and MP3s don't need to be downloaded every time and the networks wouldn't have to cooperate for it to be possible.   

       Here's a solution to the massive PIN: instead of using a PIN, use a texted username and password. That could then be as secure as an online account accessed via a wireless network. A seven-character case sensitive alphanumeric password has over seven American quadrillion combinations, for example.   

       I do envisage another problem. People who know each other are more likely to share 'phones, but they're also more likely to want to call each other. However, in a shared house there are also likely to be several 'phones lying around and it still cuts down on use if there are, say, five people in a house and three handsets. Also, there could actually be more handsets because there could then be spare ones specifically acquired to be shared.
nineteenthly, Aug 04 2008

       "If it's a physical object there's less of a bandwidth problem and the handset is immediately useable."
Not at all. Your ATM card doesn't know how much is in your account, it's just a second piece of information ostensibly proving you are who you say you are. A small keyring with an RFID tag would serve the same purpose for your phone, as would a username/password. Maybe you log in differently depending on how much of your profile you want to pull down to the phone.

       As has been noted, this would reduce the cell phone carriers to just being carriers. They like to thing of themselves as value added retailers, selling ringtones, wall paper, games, etc. Getting them to play with a third party let alone each other will be the hard part.
phoenix, Aug 04 2008

       What if 2 (or more) phones are registered with the same profile? And, I call that #? Are we all automatically conferenced? Nice.   

       Great one. I think of this as a natural parallel to web-based profiles (email, social networks), and the fact that most modern phones can access the internet to lookup your profile.   

       Store the phone profile on any of those popular sites, and login to them as you normally would. Download that to a phone provided you have the admin-rights to the local hardware on the phone.   

       Basically: Local phone needs to be accessed via a local password, from which you can access the internet & download any phone-profile (that you can access on the net with your password), which you then download & apply to the phone.
sophocles, Aug 04 2008

       Yes, that'd be great. Combine the two, so that your social networking profile _is_ your mobile/cellphone account. Also, allow audio-based instant messaging and SMS from web-based social networking, so that it works the other way round too.   

       Concerning the network companies, are there contracts which would allow this? If it can't be done that way, would it work with pay as you go? What kind of contract does that constitute?
nineteenthly, Aug 04 2008

       I think that the challenge is in the billing structure. It isn't just the device/user ID that has to be managed, it is also the network operator and so on.   

       If it was a single family, with a single account, then all that is changing between users (say bro and sis) is the wallpaper and associated preferences. If, however, the concept was expanded to include anyone and any device, then you have a whole host of trust challenges and privacy stuff to worry about as well as the download of appropriate personalisation.   

       Of course, the idea does say that the personal data isn't really the focus here - in which case you are 'just' left with the billing. There might be a relatively simple way of dealing with this on a pay-as-you-go type tariff.
Jinbish, Aug 04 2008

       //...so in fact there is no physical SIM but a virtual one. These are available on a card carried in the users purse/billfold/wallet.//   

       I'd call that a SIM card.   

       The market for this is so tiny that it's imperceptible. But, the idea of having contacts and preferences remotely available is worth a bun.
Noexit, Aug 05 2008

       So if I have to borrow someone else's phone, and they receive a call, what happens?
Bukkakinator, Aug 05 2008

       It goes to voicemail, and in the meantime you can log into a different handset or go online with a PC or other device to receive calls if you want.   

       It would be better with no physical SIM, but it depends on how surreptitious the system needs to be, as i imagine the network providers would prefer this not to happen, in which case i imagine it would be possible for them to block the data, unless they were obfuscated as a picture message or something. Maybe steganography in a JPEG? Anyway, that's why i'm referring to a physical SIM, and you're right [Noexit], that's what it would be, only not physically inserted in the handset.   

       I'm also not so sure the market is that small. It could be a generational difference. I don't know the ages of you lot reading this, but my daughter is fine with the idea of buying the user profile rather than the physical 'phone. Even now, mobiles are "given away" (i.e. razor blade marketing model), and this could be sold as free 'phones with paid access to user profiles. People already pay for to personalise their mobiles, so i can see them paying for this facility. The networks still get the money and the handsets are subsidised by the networks or the virtual 'phone vendors.
nineteenthly, Aug 05 2008

       There is so much to say...   

       Phones are not personal items, the data is, and more importantly the billing information is.   

       'Phones, funnily enough, are the same communication things we have been using for eons, in whatever form. There is an acute commonality between smoke signals and bits. Does it really matter to whom the fire belongs, or for whom the smoke is meant?   

       The revolution came from the marriage of a simple RF transceiver and relay, and a simple (static) processor, and list of these (several algorithms have been completely ignored in this post). Of course the issue is privacy and billing. I refer to it as one issue because that is what it is.   

       Anyone who suggests that this proposition is not the future of humanity is blind to the fact we are heading to a future of *completely* private information, where we hold the login, whilst the data, cpu, (protected) remain somewhere geographically distant, whilst peripherals remain geographically significant.
4whom, Aug 05 2008

       I have had a card which allows me to have a call made from someone else's landline to be billed on my account rather than theirs. That was over a decade ago. This is similar, financially.
nineteenthly, Aug 05 2008


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