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Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2020-04
End: 2022-06
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Operating Systems


An independent mobile operating system

postmarketOS is a mobile phone operating system for phones (and other mobile devices), based on Alpine Linux. Just like desktop Linux distributions, we have a package manager and a carefully crafted repository of trustworthy and privacy focused free software that will actually serve the users and not exploit them for their data. By sharing as much code as possible between various phone models, postmarketOS scales well and it becomes feasible to maintain devices even after OEMs have abandoned them.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

In the new mobile world we live in now, control as a user is limited to the very surface of things. Significant privacy and security issues start directly below that surface. You don't really know what the platform actually does while executing apps, and more importantly, who sees your data - or if you are a business, looks at the data of your customers. When you use one of the hundreds of thousands of existing apps and games, you only see the service they provide. But you can't inspect or even see what more they take. What does an app do exactly when you click on the pretty icon? This is very much unlike for instance interacting with a web page, which is fully transparent. As it turns out, mobile apps do lots of things users do not know about, and would not agree with if they did. In some cases literally hundreds of companies have been known to get access to data on the phone.

A consumer-friendly platform should empower the user to notice and take action, or even make it technically impossible. However, the companies that produce the operating systems seem to have other interests. Have you ever wondered why everyone tells you your desktop computer needs a firewall and you are allowed full control to see everything happen. Now stop and think about why your cell phone does not have the very same level of firewall capabilities, but only very much simplified and less capable?

So what can we as a society do in the face of such a complex situation of market failure, anti-competitive practices, perverse incentives and general confusion? How do we give control back to the users? How do we create equal opportunities for European phone manufacturers? How do we stop the unfair "platform tax" on app developers, stimulating employment and startups?

One reasonable direction is to try and lay the ground work for creating viable alternative platforms. Such a fundamental approach is necessary in order to end these extractive practices and the resulting lack of consumer freedom. This project develops a mobile operating system independent of Android based on the widely popular and open source Linux-system, complete with trustworthy and privacy-focused free (as in freedom) software. Staying clear of device-specific software, postmarketOS gives meaning to its name by ensuring all mobile phones running this operating system can be updated until they physically break.

Run by Postmarket OS

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.