The politics of mobile code: Exploring possibilities and limitations of the programmability of smartphones

How can you write an app for smartphones, and distribute it in a way to reach millions of users? And what obstacles will you face in this process? These are questions through which Lela Mosemghvdlishvili set to explore the possibilities and limitations of the programmability of Smartphones. Lela will defend her PhD dissertation ‘The Politics of Mobile Code: Exploring Possibilities and Limitations of the Programmability of Smartphones’ on Thursday the 25th of February, 2021.

Lela Mosemghvdlishvili inquired into the practices of hobbyist developers who are writing apps for smartphones. The hobbyist developers shared alarming concerns about the limitations they encountered in the process of writing software for apps. For example, all apps had to be reviewed by app stores. However, there were no guidelines, and the decisions were communicated under non-disclosure agreements, making it very hard to know why an app was deemed as not suitable for users.

She also interviewed the digital rights activists from the Free Software Foundation Europe and explored a small but vibrant community which invests in creating free and libre software for smartphones.

The digital rights activists were vocal about this limitation and criticized Google that, even though the conglomerate marketed Android as the first truly open and free platform, it was far from being an accurate characteristic.

Lela Mosemghvdlishvili: “On the one hand activists shared the view that dominance of Android was a ‘huge opening’, but on the other hand, it was misleading to call the platform open and free. In principle, Android was free only for handset providers and not for users, or developers.”

But exploring the community which invests in creating free and libre software, shows that it’s possible to write and distribute an app. For example, a popular project among digital rights activists is F Droid, a repository of free and libre apps that allows an individual user to search and download libre apps - in other words, apps that respect users' privacy, do not track, or collect data without consent.