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Cellphones The Almighty Buck Wireless Networking Hardware

Android Susceptible To Apps That Turn On Roaming 136

Posted by timothy
from the would-love-to-see-an-actual-toggle-switch dept.
fermion writes "If seems that Google's Android and T-Mobile have not learned from the bad experience and wrath Apple incurred with roaming charges on the iPhone. Applications can switch to roaming and data operation without the user's knowledge. Also, according to The Register, there is no way to switch off roaming. Given the backlash that Apple experienced over international roaming charges, one would think that T-Mobile would have built a phone to prevent such unexpected charges." From the wording of the article, the inability to turn off roaming seems to be on a per-application basis; users can evidently disable it globally.
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Android Susceptible To Apps That Turn On Roaming

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  • Solution: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Spazztastic (814296) <spazztastic@NOSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:22AM (#26090597)
    When traveling, only do so in a faraday cage.
  • by theaveng (1243528) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:26AM (#26090651)

    What reasonable explanation can exist for charging me an extra 50 cents per minute, just because I made a call from Maryland instead of Pennsylvania? I can't think of any. Cingular used to do that to me, but now I use Virgin Mobile which did away with that nonsense (I pay a flat 18 cents anywhere in the U.S.). That's how all cellphones should operate.

    • by geekmux (1040042) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:31AM (#26090737)

      What reasonable explanation can exist for charging me an extra 50 cents per minute, just because I made a call from Maryland instead of Pennsylvania? I can't think of any. Cingular used to do that to me, but now I use Virgin Mobile which did away with that nonsense (I pay a flat 18 cents anywhere in the U.S.). That's how all cellphones should operate.

      Ah, to summarize with maximum efficiency negating your "reasonable" request for an answer: Because they can.

      • Ah to summarize the rebuttal with maximum efficiency to which no further argument can be made:
        NO U

      • which is why we should replace closed/proprietary cellular networks with open wifi access. rather than putting artificial limits on technology to suit the telecom industry's outdated business model, we should be doing away with these restrictive business models as they are quickly becoming a technological anachronism.

        it just doesn't make sense to maintain a bunch of redundant specialized communications networks that are wholly owned and tightly controlled by a handful of telecoms who continually ream the pu

        • by geekmux (1040042)

          which is why we should replace closed/proprietary cellular networks with open wifi access. rather than putting artificial limits on technology to suit the telecom industry's outdated business model, we should be doing away with these restrictive business models as they are quickly becoming a technological anachronism.

          Hrm, "outdated" you say? Let's see, what have the telecoms brought us on their outdated tech? Switched from analog to digital, forever abolishing the $0.29 per minute peak rate plans.(yeah, few of us remember THOSE days). Then, EVDO. Offer true Global coverage with quad-band hardware. How about faster EVDO and 3G/4G tech out there for the masses. Somewhere in this mess, they "invented" the ringtone, followed quickly by the ring-back tone. Of course, now text messaging rules the cellular world, and th

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by lysergic.acid (845423)

            um, i never said it wasn't viable. the telecoms can do whatever they want because they have a natural monopoly (oligopoly in some places, but in practice there's not much difference) and telecommunications is a service with inelastic demand. these days a cellphone is almost a basic necessity if you live in most places. but their making buttloads of cash doesn't change the fact that:

            • SMS messages cost 10~15 cents each (in the U.S.) while it's just a stripped down proprietary version of e-mails or IMs. no one
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by maxume (22995)

      It wasn't just Cingular, it was the company that they were buying the airtime from.

      Virgin Mobile skirts the problem by *only* working on Sprint's network. You simply don't have the option to use other networks, even if Sprint doesn't have coverage.

      See, each company only has towers in some areas, and you probably actually have less coverage with Virgin than you did with Cingular+roaming.

      Maybe you had a regional plan (where you get more minutes for less money, in exchange for less coverage), but I bet that it

      • by Sockatume (732728) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:56AM (#26091185)
        I think the whole "it's expensive to buy airtime from our roaming partners" thing is a crock of shit. If they all charge eachother some ridiculous rate for roaming onto their network, and that is passed straight to the end consumer, then it's price fixing. It was more transparently stupid here in Europe when you were roaming from T-Mobile UK to T-Mobile Germany and being charged through the nose for roaming onto a network that belongs to the same parent company. There was no excuse along the lines of "we charge ourselves a lot for roaming", so ultimately it was very easy for the parliment to demand a drop in roaming fees and, when the companies disregarded this, legislate a maximum fee.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by maxume (22995)

          Sure. The roaming minutes do represent an ongoing cost though, as opposed to the regular minutes, which are essentially a fixed cost, so part of the high charges is to discourage use.

          The U.S. cellular system is a disaster anyway; the FCC should have licensed two networks and then regulated the shit out of them (basically, let them have customer facing operations, but force them to sell bulk rate airtime at or near cost). Instead, we have 3.5 incomplete networks. The huge investment in CDMA was nice for the

          • by Sockatume (732728)
            Right, roaming charges themselves are justifiable (you're getting access to a range of extra networks you wouldn't normally use), which is easy to forget when getting wound up about how large they are.
          • by AvitarX (172628)
            Why is it my phones and minutes have both been so cheap if things are such a disaster?

            I haven't been charged roaming in 6 years, I consistently pay less than friends in Europe, and my phones are usually free.

            OK, I admit, when i was in Europe, I payed roaming, even on my own network (but kept my US number), and the furthest I've ever been without roaming is 2000 miles.
            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by maxume (22995)

              Probably because you spend most of your time in areas with good coverage and think that present prices for minutes are cheap. I am presuming that better regulation could actually result in even lower prices (which I would claim is a good thing for consumers), and better overall coverage.

      • by theaveng (1243528)

        Well Cingular owns virtually every tower in Maryland, so I shouldn't have been paying any kind of roaming charge.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by maxume (22995)

          Okay, then you almost certainly signed up for a regional plan in order to get more minutes/dollar (versus a national plan)

          AT&T will sell you either, so you are basically complaining that they offer the option.

          • by theaveng (1243528)

            Uh... actually my complaint is more about a single company charging me different rates simply because I crossed a state border. IMHO if they charge 25 cents a minute when I'm home, then that same company should charge 25 cents when I'm in Maryland. Charging me 75 is ridiculous.

            For example when I cross the border, my bank doesn't charge me different rates for services. Why should the cellphone company?

            • by Moridin42 (219670)

              I'm going to assume you're talking about a standard mobile contract, rather than a pre-paid phone. Mostly because I don't know how pre-paid phones deal with roaming.

              So, under that assumption, you paid 75 cents because you chose the option where your minutes per month were higher. But you couldn't use them outside of your region. To use your example, your bank probably doesn't offer you additional (or better) service for using a particular branch.

              In other words, your minutes were cheaper because you agreed n

      • by rickb928 (945187) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:02PM (#26091275) Homepage Journal

        It wasn't that long ago that in the Augusta, Maine area an AT&T or T-Mobile customer was confronted with a carrier that did not negotiate a roaming agreement. They just refused to. So if youmade a call, you got the recording telling you how to give your credit card number and the charges that would apply.

        I suspect it had something to do with Augusta being the state capital, and legislators from all over coming into town for the current session. Bringing their phones from Fort Kent, Portland, Boothbay, Farmington, etc., and all the AT&T/TMob subscribers just thinking it would work.

        Later on, AT&T and/or TMob got service in the area. This carrier, if it latched onto your phone, would not let it go, especially if you came into town from the North or West. You had to get downtown and power cycle your phone usually, and maybe do that three times.

        This humored me when I had a Siemens S46, the dual-mode-phone-from-hell. This carrier kept me on TDMA at all costs, even when I could have gone to GSM and gotten T-Mobile.

        But that's another story. Sometimes, roaming isn't so nice. It ought to be different, but then again so many things ought to be different.

        • by RingDev (879105)

          Later on, AT&T and/or TMob got service in the area. This carrier, if it latched onto your phone, would not let it go, especially if you came into town from the North or West. You had to get downtown and power cycle your phone usually, and maybe do that three times.

          That is actually pretty standard. Once your call roams to another network, the other network's hand off mappings are only configured for their own towers. So the only way to get off of a "roaming" network is to end your call, disable the roaming feature on your phone (or return to an area where your carrier has the best signal).

          It's been a few years since I've been in the industry, but I would be surprised if the major players haven't been optimizing their phones and networks to try to get off network calls

          • by rickb928 (945187)

            I mentioned this because at the time it was not the norm. I regularly was in roaming, and would switch back easily (or at least quickly) when the home network was in range.

            Now, along Route 1 on the coast, there was a stretch from about Bath to Rockland where I could NOT get service. After a particularly long session with AT&T (My T637 at the time), we found that my phone was indeed properly configured but no answer as to why I couldn't get service they said was available from 3 different roaming partn

          • AT&T canceled my sister's contract because she moved to an area outside their coverage. They gave her 90 days of notice IIRC, and didn't charge her early termination since they were the ones terminating the agreement. So not only do they try to keep calls on their networks, but they'll take steps to make sure at least a certain portion of your calls are on their network rather than roaming.

    • by Moraelin (679338)

      Well, even with a flat 18 cents a minute, if I write an app that uses that connection all the time, it's going to cost you 24*60*0.18=259.2 dollars per _day_.

      • by theaveng (1243528)

        >>>if I write an app that uses that connection all the time

        Why on earth would you do that? You definitely wouldn't get away with it though, since my phone only had $60 on it. It would drain dry in 5 hours and I would dispute the charge with my company as being "ridiculous; I wasn't talking for 5 hours today".

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by Moraelin (679338)

          Why on earth would you do that?

          A bug? Using some third party library which talks to itself over the external IP address? Sheer incompetence?

          Don't underestimate the sheer amount of bloody stupidity in the industry.

          Note that it doesn't even have to actually stuff the pipe all the time. It just needs to ping something once a minute. It's an easier task to achieve by sheer idiotic mistake than you'd think.

          • It's an easier task to achieve by sheer idiotic mistake than you'd think.

            There speaks the voice of experience...

    • by RingDev (879105) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:01PM (#26091273) Homepage Journal

      It costs millions to build and maintain a tower.

      When you go into roaming, you are using your provider's competitor's network. The competition wants to make money to pay for their tower, and you are not their customer, so they are going to bill your provider an arm an a leg for access, and your provider will pass those costs on to you.

      Even more so, the more the competition charges for roaming calls, the more upset you will be with your provider, and if you need to go into roaming often enough, you will be more likely to leave your provider and join up with the very competitor that had been billing 50 cents a minute for the same call you are now making for 10 cents a minute.

      Although, with all the new peering and leasing agreements going on, we'll likely see less and less of roaming fees from any provider that owns some amount of their own towers.

      -Rick

      • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:14PM (#26091453) Homepage Journal

        It costs millions to build and maintain a tower.

        Sure, if you maintain it for 27 centuries.

        • by RingDev (879105)

          Your inability to calculate TCO doesn't actually make it cheaper:

          From a Cingular Press release.

          Cingular Wireless has spent almost $90 million building more than 30 new cell sites throughout Indiana in 2005. This includes key sites in the following Indianapolis areas...

          -Rick

          • Your inability to calculate TCO doesn't actually make it cheaper

            I confess, I cannot calculate TCO from purely hypothetical and fictional numbers.

            From a Cingular Press release...

            An accurate and unbiased source, if ever there was one.

            ...Cingular Wireless has spent almost $90 million building more than 30 new cell sites

            You sucking figures out of Cingular's ass doesn't make it true.

            Three million per tower just to build? Did they subcontract the job to the CxO's brother?

            • by RingDev (879105)

              You sucking figures out of Cingular's ass doesn't make it true

              As opposed to your arm chair estimates with no understanding of TCO, the technology, the business, or the construction? I'm not claiming to be an expert, but I've seen enough of the industry to have an idea, and Cingular's press release doesn't seem out of line with what I would expect to see.

              Odds are some of those towers were more than 3 mil, and some were well under. If they spent 10 mil on a single tower, the average for the other 29 towers would drop to 2 mil, which really isn't that big of a jump.

              Depen

              • I understand that quoting TCO without a time period (as you did) is meaningless.

                The press release clearly stated cost to build. The waffle you just posted mixes up-front and ongoing costs almost at random.

                • by RingDev (879105)

                  Ehh, my presentation wasn't that great. But I'm not lobbying the CEO to buy a new beowulf cluster here ;)

                  But the point is you can just build a tower and throw an antena on it and call it finished. There is a lot more that goes into building cell towers.

                  My assertion, that it costs millions to build and maintain Cell towers is provably accurate. I could post press release after press release from all of the major providers showing average investments from 1.5 to 4 million dollars per tower. But I'm sure you a

                  • My assertion, that it costs millions to build and maintain Cell towers is provably accurate.

                    Mintain it for how long?

                    making false press releases and publicly advertising fake costs would bring a world of pain down on them, and to what gain?

                    No it wouldn't. Press releases aren't company accounts.

                    If you have any factual evidence to back up your opinion that it does not cost millions to build and maintain a commercial carrier grade cell tower

                    Maintain it for how long?

        • by isomeme (177414)

          It costs millions to build and maintain a tower.

          Sure, if you maintain it for 27 centuries.

          Excellent, a new profit center for the Avout! I'm sure there are cellular antennae somewhere on the upper reaches of the Mynster.

      • by Firethorn (177587)

        Although, with all the new peering and leasing agreements going on, we'll likely see less and less of roaming fees from any provider that owns some amount of their own towers.

        True, despite all the ads, Alltel's and Verizon's networks are essentially identical today. My alltel* phone will work anywhere the identical model Verizon branded one will.

        No roaming or long distance charges in 99.9% of the USA that gets cellphone coverage.

        *Because Alltel offered me a plan that works out ~$5/month cheaper.

        • by RingDev (879105)

          Same is true in Wisconsin. In the late 90's early 2000's US Cellular covered Wisconsin in CDMA towers and networks.

          At first Sprint and Verizon were only covering major metros and interstates. But in order to be competitive in the area they needed more coverage. And US Cellular, while having an awesome network, didn't have the cash on hand to advertise and push demand. So Verizon buys (or leases, I have no idea on the details) service on US Cellular's network. Verizon went from insignificant coverage to almo

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lumpy (12016)

      What reasonable explanation can exist for charging me an extra 50 cents per minute, just because I made a call from Maryland instead of Pennsylvania? I can't think of any.

      I can... it makes them RICHER.

      Your cellphone company hates you and wants to rob you blind. When you understand that fact, you will have a far better understand of how Corporations do business.

    • >>Virgin Mobile which did away with that nonsense (I pay a flat 18 cents anywhere in the U.S.). That's how all cellphones should operate.

      No nono -- I pay a flat .10/minute and .05 per message with Net10 which runs through Tracphone which in turn is AT&T's network. Why would I want .18/minute? No monthly fees, no $10/mo taxes, notta. Just .10/minute and that's it. $30 for two months of service and 300 minutes, which includes tax.

      That's how it should be :)

    • by Heembo (916647)

      What reasonable explanation can exist for charging me an extra 50 cents per minute

      You signed a contract and they want your money. Seems very reasonable to me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sunderland56 (621843)
      On the T-Mobile Android data plan, there are no roaming charges in the USA.

      Unlimited data per month, too - unlike that other phone that begins with 'i'.
    • I got a T-Mobile flex plan. You always pay the same amount every month. A separate flex account is provided for roaming and other charges. You refill your flex account over the phone or online as needed. If your flex account runs dry your roaming is disabled and you have to add money -- but at least there aren't any surprise bills.

    • What reasonable explanation can exist for charging me an extra 50 cents per minute, just because I made a call from Maryland instead of Pennsylvania?

      Did they advertise it as 0.50 cents, or is it only Verizon who struggle with decimals [blogspot.com]?

  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:30AM (#26090723)

    Sounds like BS to me..

    1) go here: http://tmobile.modeaondemand.com/htc/g1/ [modeaondemand.com]
    2) click Simulation
    3) Click the arrow icon on the screen to the right
    4) click market
    5) select any app
    6) click install

    Look at this screen. It tells you exactly what the app does.

    • But the big thing about Android is that you aren't limited to the Market Place for apps.... And who gets to write that text anyhow? The developers? Google?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by LingNoi (1066278)

        I can only assume here, but it's probably auto generated by looking at what parts of the android API your program accesses.

  • Bad summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by jettoblack (683831) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:30AM (#26090731)

    The problem is that the Android OS doesn't strictly enforce its global "Disable Data Roaming" option. Apps are supposed to respect this setting but some do not, thus a user who thinks it is disabled can still end up with $thousands in international data fees.

    • This looks like a platform flaw to me.
      • by Ilgaz (86384) on Friday December 12, 2008 @12:23PM (#26091629) Homepage

        They should buy a Symbian S60 or even a modern J2ME handset and see how strict you gotta be on communications network which user pays for bytes. Google embraced and extended J2ME but passed its sandbox/security model?

        Everyone keeps hating Symbian and J2ME security model but it seems as the only way to make best of both open competition and security. Nokia and others learned it very hard and expensive way.

        • by jmpvm (6160)

          It has nothing to do with sandboxes or security models. Nor does this have anything to do with Google not "screening" applications before they go on Market.

          This has to do with the fact that the API allows applications to toggle this setting. The decision to expose that can (and should, in my opinion) be scrutinized, but it has nothing to do with security models, sandboxes, or "Apple being better". (To also comment to some other's responses)

    • Summary's not bad, just incomplete because it doesn't tell you the worst part. Not only can you not turn off roaming, it makes you think you have when you haven't.

      • by LingNoi (1066278)

        No, that's wrong.

        It's turned off however if you use an application that accesses the internet, that application may not respect the setting.

        Hence it's the application maintainers fault, however it's also Android's fault for not forcing this in the first place.

        • It's turned off however if you use an application that accesses the internet, that application may not respect the setting.

          If an application can choose to ignore the off setting, it isn't turned off. It's suggested off, hinted off or wished off.

          A master setting isn't much of a master setting if it can be ignored.

    • You are correct. Sadly this is a design flaw that was probably understood as a feature by Google with hope it would force all network to come up with unlimited data plan.

      More precisely you have absolutely no control on which applications does what on the network once they are installed. Authorization to use the network (any network type, wifi, 3g, edge etc.) is given at installation time and is unrevocable.

      This is a terrible mistake. By definition the environment of a mobile phone will change, people
  • Just checked my G1, there's a setting to enable/disable data roaming. Maybe they're referring to Apps that can toggle that setting?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LingNoi (1066278)

      T-Mobile has issued an official response (posted in full after the break) to clear things up, and the gist of it is this: for users with a bone stock G1, the "Off" selection in data roaming should work fine, but third-party applications can essentially override this command and wreak havoc on one's phone bill. From the horse's mouth: "Some third-party applications available for download on Android Market require access to the internet and have the ability to turn on data roaming when in use. Customers are i

      • by mrboyd (1211932)
        The problem is deeper than that. You can't be sure that the application is not running. Any application you install could register an "intend" listener that would automatically wake up the application when for example an SMS or a Call is received. Or every 10 minutes.. or for whatever other reason.
        The fact is the Android platform gives the user zero control on what an application can do once it is installed. Authorization are set at installation time and definitive.
  • If applications were restricted from using the full functionality of the phone, then people would complain about that.

    Either you trust your applications, or you don't. If you don't trust them, you run them in a sandbox. If you trust them, and a third-party application does something you don't like, blame the application.

    • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:38AM (#26090861)
      No this is not the way things should work. The "roaming disabled" should be like a firewall. It should be possible to add exceptions for explicit applications, and those apps could recommend you did this during install - but it should be up to you.
      • by argent (18001)

        I have no dog in this hunt. My desktop operating system of choice has a variety of security features that restrict applications from blithely changing settings, and has had since before Windows was a twinkle in Bill Gates' eye. I'm just noting the existence of an existential tension in the commentary on Slashdot. :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sockatume (732728)
      I'd say that a program that disregards your preferences is already falling short of using the full functionality of the phone.
    • Applications are always restricted from using the full functionality of the computer, that is what separates them from operating systems. Now, it is certainly possible for applications to suffer under far greater restrictions than merely being confined to OS provided abstractions(and that is indeed worth complaining about); but I'd argue in this case that roaming/nonroaming, like other network related things, is a perfectly valid thing to hide behind an abstraction controlled by the system(at the user's beh
  • Didn't we learn anything from the refusal of the big telecoms to give their subscribers the option to opt-out of incoming spam text messages? These guys make their huge profits by nickel and diming us into oblivion, and roaming charges are part of the big picture.
  • Why do people buy a mutlti-hundred dollar phone capable of running pretty much the same apps as a home computer and not get a Nationwide plan with unlimitted data. Don't get me wrong, those plans are expensive and not everyone needs them... but... for those that don't just get a plain old cellphone!

    • by _Swank (118097)

      and when you travel internaationally and bring your phone for its other functions? ooops...

    • by radish (98371)

      It's international roaming that is the issue, there's pretty much no such thing as regional roaming any more (at least I haven't seen such a plan for a long time).

      • by Firethorn (177587)

        A lot of people in my area still go for the local phone company's cell phones, and they're roaming outside of the area outside the state/a bit of the neighboring. A bunch more go for regional phones.

        Me, I travel several times a year, so have a national, but regionals are still offered. I went with the national because it was only like $2 more a month.

  • Change APN (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I think atm the only solution is changing the APN, so the G1 can't log on to the 2G/3G Data network.

  • To my knowledge, this is international roaming, folks. When this story first broke approximately a week ago, I called T-Mobile to ensure that all phone and data roaming in the US was covered and they said it was.

    However, this might be just for my plan (MyFaves 600 and unlimited G1 data).

  • by wesw02 (846056)
    It would be possible to create a 3rd party app that detects if the phone is roaming and switches the phone to airplane mode (I.E. disabling all radio transmissions). Not quite desirable because this means that you can't use it to make or receive calls when roaming (without manual override), but it could be a lot better than the alternative.
  • If brings more money that any lawsuit could cost them, doesn't it?

    company :: [Consumer] -> Money
    company consumer:consumers =
    let screw consumer contract =
    if ((cost (possibleLawsuit (terms defaultContract)) consumer) > (projectedProfit contract consumer))
    then (profit (makeContract defaultContract consumer))
    else (screw consumer (tryToFix defaultContract))

  • As pointed out repeatedly, "Because they can" is exactly true. There is no incentive to give the customer help, information, or respect. All they want is the cash out of your pocket. Forget the "Jobs will be lost" crap. They have us addicted, and will not give that leverage away until we just plain stop buying their service. As for me, I have never paid for a personal cell phone service, and never will. I get along very fine thank you. A lot of people need mobile service, I understand this. So, when I say "
    • Board members would laugh at you for owning a cell phone? Those dinosaurs.

      Your post is stupidly hysterical, you've gone out on a huge limb and decided that because some cell phone companies are pushy, there must be something wrong with cell phones.

      I use "Cricket" and it's been a godsend. Their business model is to give everyone unlimited minutes / SMS texting, but limit the non-roaming service range to the local metropolitan area. It's targeted towards people who use their phone a lot but don't leave the ci

  • Oh.. yyyeah. We're real sorry about that "mistake", guys. Never meant to make a shitload of money through roaming charges. It's of the utmost importance that we prevent our customers' money from falling into our hands, and we'll do anything necessary to prevent it.

    Love always,
    T-Mobile

  • Uh, no. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kazin (3499)

    From what I can tell, this is a case of people not really knowing what they're talking about. There is no documented way to turn on this setting from in an application. And just because an app has permission to use the internet does not say it can change this roaming setting.

    Some reference: http://groups.google.com/group/android-developers/browse_thread/thread/ee7bc6309c865672/77003d32c992752c/ [google.com]

  • ifconfig cel0 down

    wtf

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.

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