Using a de-googled android phone to secure your privacy - Benefits and CaveatsAugust 24, 2021
Apple and Google both track an unnerving amount of your data, mapping out intimate details of your life is intrinsic to their business model. Standard phones will send your data to their servers several times per hour.
They can articulate your history and even your every movement with far greater accuracy than you yourself. If you use their systems (like Google Photos or iCloud) to back up your photos and videos they can take a peek anytime they want. Is that information something you really want them to have?
I don’t see any reason why they should, and I can see a lot of situations where this could go wrong. That’s why I use a version of Android on my phone that does not have any Google services connected to it. My phone doesn’t send their servers a single thing unless I decide to. I’ve taken that power away from them and placed it into my own hands.
Sound interesting? Let’s take a look at the pros and caveats of using a de-googled operating system on your Phone.
Pro: your phone will not automatically or routinely send usage data to Google
Everywhere you’ve gone with an Apple or Google Android device in on your person: they’ve got a log of that.
Every word you’ve uttered into talk to text, or digital helpers like Siri and Google Assistant, is now stored on the respective company’s servers. I’m sure volumes of my voice/ audio data exists in Apple’s databases, but that flow of information ended when I switched to a de-googled phone.
According to a new study conducted by Professor Douglas C. Schmidt, Professor of Computer Science at Vanderbilt University, and published by Digital Content Next, Google in particular likes to keep tabs on its users. The study analyzed how often Android phones and iPhones send information to Google’s and Apple’s servers during a 24-hour period, distinguishing between the amount of data collected in idle mode and during normal use.
How often do smartphones “phone home” per hour? (as of 2018)
Android: 40.2 instances when idle, 90.3 instances while active
iPhone: 4.2 instances when idle, 17.9 instances while active
Sure, Apple gathers information about you less often, but they’re still gathering info about you even while the phone is not in use. It might be the case that they’re simply packaging that information more efficiently.
Even if you’ve opted out to location tracking and other data collection, this has no effect, they’re still tracking you.
The good news is, they don’t want you to know exactly how they’re tracking you. Therefore all that code is proprietary and hidden from the light of day. However, Android itself is open source and you can inspect it for yourself or know that professional geeks have done so in their own interest.
De-googled phone operating systems take the open-source code from Android and build from there. This means they can publish and package the code without adding tracking software. If they keep the code open source, that means anyone can inspect it and raise a red flag if tracking is going on or the team is otherwise going against their stated purpose.
Caveat: bye bye Apple, you cannot opt out of privacy invading software while using Apple devices
Selling my iPhone was not an easy decision. When I removed my SIM card for the last time, I noticed the card slot was made out of actual milled metal. There’s no argument that Apple devices have earned the right to boast of superior build quality. They’re solid machines. On top of that they’ve built an ecosystem that is beyond efficient.
That being said, Apple a vertically integrated company that controls both the software and hardware manufacturing of their products. As this is the case, Apple devices are closed systems in which you cannot load custom operating systems.
Apple’s self-identification as a privacy respecter is nonsense. They use the same line that the NSA uses, “we have access to all your data on a whim, however we’re choosing not to look at this particular moment therefore privacy”
Apple recently developed a method of scanning your phone’s photos and videos on your device. They claim the policy will fight child abuse, typical snake move to get all the emotional fools begging for overreach. Make no mistake, someday (probably soon, if not already) this technology will be used to scan your device for dissident thought on behalf of the establishment and its puppet-stringed despotic government. Can’t happen here in ‘Murica, you say? Hilarious.
Video on the subject:
Ditching Apple isn’t so bad of a thing though. Switching to Android might be inconvenient at first, but ultimately it’s for the better. You’ll be paying less for phones and have more control over your device. There’s an immeasurable value in that.
In contrast, Google builds the Android operating system separate from Google Apps. Third party manufacturers build their phones, then install Android before installing Google’s app suite. This separation creates an opportunity to install your own operating system on the device, so long as the device’s boot loader can be unlocked.
Pro: you can install and use most Android apps and use them as you would with a Google Android device
Calyx OS and Lineage OS are both operating systems based on Android. They simply do not include Google’s apps and services where the tracking is located, and that’s what you want.
They are Android devices, and they function the same way your run-of-the-mill Android phone does. This means you can install and use most Android apps.
There will be some differences in how you do some things, like installing apps, but overall using a de-googled Android device is the almost exactly the same as using a typical Google Android device.
Social media apps work, weather and mapping apps work, banking apps work, music apps work, my grocery store’s curbside/ delivery app works, of course browsers work, and more. I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed much utility at all by switching to a de-googled phone.
Caveat: some apps will not work 100% on de-googled Android operating systems
Of course, this decision to retake control of your privacy won’t come without some sacrifice. I’ve decided that these sacrifices are worth it, and fortunately I’ve found them to be few and easy to work around.
One example being Uber, whose “ride-sharing” app does not work on de-googled devices, but you can use Uber in the browser so ordering a ride is not out of reach.
The reason for this is that there are three Google Play Services features that app developers use out of convenience. These are: Google Maps, Google push notifications via Firebase, and Google in-app payments. If an app is dependent on, or will refuse to work without, any of these mobile services, then the app might not work. However many apps will work with Micro G, which tricks the app into thinking these services are present on the device, so the app will work as normal sans any dependent features.
If you truly need a phone that works with all Android apps, consider purchasing a cheap device to keep as a secondary with either a pay-as-you-go model or otherwise cheap subscription service. Leave it off and don’t use it or take it with you when you don’t have to.
Pro: with Android, and de-googled Android operating systems, you can circumvent app store censorship by installing apps directly
Now, this is a neat one. If you’ve only ever downloaded app from the app store, you’re depending on a bottleneck that can be easily shut down.
Apple through their App Store and Google through their Play Store have both shown their willingness to censor apps they don’t like. Why should these companies get to choose what software you have on your phone? They shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Apple, there is no way to install an application without using the App Store. However, with Android, you can simply download the app as a file (.apk extension) and install it on your device.
Apps can be downloaded directly from your phone’s browser, then installed. Or you can download apps on your computer, transfer it to your phone, then install.
No permission needed, no bottlenecks to stop you.
Caveat: de-googled phones by themselves are not an all encompassing solution to governmental spying
When it comes to shielding yourself from any kind of attack, including privacy breaching attacks, it’s important to take into account the interest level and resources of your attacker.
Google may spend a lot of money building these spyware systems, however they work in a passive way. They’re not so interested in tracking you, they’re interested in tracking everyone. As such, their methods depend on you actively using and submitting data to their systems.
Governments like the United States gather every byte that crosses the internet and telecom lines. Their excuse is that “we’re not actively looking at the data without a warrant therefore it’s privacy.”
Granted, the average enhanced surveillance operations used to track an individual or a group require intent on their part, but when they make that decision there’s a near infinite amount of (your and the money printer’s) resources at their disposal.
When they start burning budget and sending actual agents to spy on a person, there’s very little that you can do to avoid it. That’s a very different discussion saved for those with very different concerns than the average person.
But how do they become interested in a person in the first place?
Increasingly they are using data gathered by Google and social media platforms to pick their targets. Using a de-googled phone, and using social media wisely if at all, is one way you might be able to prevent that seed from ever taking root.
If you’re an innocent person who would never tempt power or break any of the millions of laws existing on the books in America, that’s all the more reason for you to protect your data.
Law enforcement officers make mistakes all the time, you don’t want to find yourself under pressure just because a piece of your data happened to corroborate with a crime that you did not do. Even if they find out you weren’t involved, the stress of being investigated by agents or police officers who would personally benefit from putting you away is enough to leave an painful impression on anyone.
Pro: longer battery life and older phones will work faster without the Google bloat
Google Android adds a lot of unnecessary bloat to phones. This bogs down older phones making them noticeably slower and sometimes causes them to bug out when the same usage was once smooth.
There is no Google bloat on de-googled Android phones. It’s not installed on the phone in the first place. Since Google is no longer in control of your updates, they also cannot add it after the fact.
Recent experience was quite pleasant. Customer had a phone from 2015 that she had in mind to throw away, but really didn’t want to. It was a nice phone, it was simply unusable. I installed Lineage OS on the device, since there was no Calyx OS build for it, and it worked like new. It will continue to work like new until the device’s physical hardware fails at its end of life.
I also ran a very basic test to get a real life exhibition of that old phone’s battery life. I call it the “leave the phone out unplugged on the table all night” test. Phone started on a full charge and in the morning it was at 92%. Not bad at all. I’ve heard reports of phones lasting several days on a single charge, while under normal daily use.
Pro: control when your phone implements software updates
Software/ Firmware Updates are practically forced on Google Android and Apple devices, there will come a day when they are mandatory to use the device.
Apple and Google phone will annoy you to no end until you submit to their warnings and update their latest version. These versions can include all sorts things that you don’t want, from bloat to anti-privacy technology.
With Calyx OS and Lineage OS, you’ll get a notification that an update is available. When you do it’ll be far simpler, and you’ll actually be able to read what’s in it.
If you don’t want to update your phone at that time, or ever, you won’t be bugged about it and you won’t be forced to do so.
Pro: with Calyx OS, you have direct access to the phone’s network firewall
This is a cool one because it’s a direct demonstration of your control over the phone’s operations. This feature also empowers you to install apps that would be otherwise unsafe from a privacy perspective, and simply disable network access so your data never sees that company’s servers.
An example of this is the Google Camera. Why should my device be sending information about my camera usage, or the photos I take, to Google? They shouldn’t, and with a de-googled phone you can prevent this. Simply install a version of the Google Camera that works on your phone, head to the firewall admin panel, and disable network access. Done, this app no longer spies on you.
Another example is the Google keyboard, aka Gboard. Did you know that your phone’s keyboard is sending information to Google or Apple? Also, any time they want they could push an update to collect any key press you make. My phone doesn’t do that. You can change this by using a de-googled phone.
Pro: de-googled phones grant you awareness and control over your smartphone
When you use an iPhone or Google Android phone, your phone does not belong to you. At any time, these companies can push an update to decide how your phone works and whether or not it works at all.
When you use a de-googled device, you get to have a say in what your phone does and what information is shared. You can read the code yourself, or simply rest a bit easier knowing that other people with more experience are doing so and can alert the rest of us if the custom operating system gets shady.
Privacy is not about hiding so much as choosing what personal information you share with the world. With tools like this, the choice becomes yours.
I hope you make that choice and join those of us who have made the conscious decision to take this power back. This is only part of the beginning of what needs to happen for us to truly be free, and it’s a crucial step in the right direction. Good luck.