The fact that Google is detrimental to a person's privacy is beyond any doubt. And therefore I have decided to stop feeding Google with my data and to stop using Google at all. But I do not want to change one big corp for another (yes, you Apple) so I was left with the only option to degooglify my Android phone.
This article is about how I have achieved that.
The objective is to have a phone as before (with as little compromises as possible) and simultaneously:
Permissions that are by default enabled for Google Play services
The first step was to use an alternative Android system without integrated Google's spyware.
I choose LineageOS as it has a good reputation as a successor to the famous CyanogenMod. To install it, you need to find an up-to-date guide for your device and some skill with flashing your phone.
DISCLAIMER: You can brick your phone if you mess it up! Bricked phone can be fixed but it's a lot of trial and error pain. If you have OnePlus 7 Pro this guide (soft brick) and this guide (hard brick) can help a lot. Don't ask! 😂
LineageOS comes with auto-updates, but for major releases the upgrade needs to by done by loading new
adb. It is however very simple by:
zipfile for given device
sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot
There is an official guide for it.
Now we need some apps. Of course, we cannot use Google Play Store for obvious reasons.
Instead of Google Play, there is F-Droid as a main source of apps.
Support for the calendar and contacts is hardcoded directly in Android itself. We just need to use some synchronization service other than the one from Google.
After a lengthy search, I have found EteSync. You can download the app from F-Droid and for 2$ (of course paid in Bitcoin) a month you get end-to-end encrypted, tamper-proof journals to store your contacts and calendars. Migration from Google is easy. I've just exported contacts (vCard) and calendars (iCal) from Google and imported all my data easily via the mobile app.
For synchronization with external calendars there are:
But what if the app (or its alternative) is not available on F-Droid?
The solution to this problem is Aurora. It is a proxy store that allows you to download apps from Google Play Store without interacting with it directly. It uses an anonymous Google account to keep you safe. Naturally, it also means that you cannot buy or use already purchased paid apps. (There is an option to log in via your own Google account but that would completely compromise the goal of staying anonymous.)
Most other apps I regularly use also work. For example Revolut, Spotify, Trello, Disord, and Slack, they all work.
The last resort is to download the APK directly from a website and install the app manually.
WARNING: Downloading APKs directly has HUGE security issues: 1) no updates and 2) you may download malware APK.
Sadly, there are still some apps left that we need to use but they are simply not programmed to work without Google play services.
microG is a replacement for proprietary Google Play services. The idea is to replace them with Open alternatives. However, there is a huge problem. To make it work you need to enable Signature Spoofing to be able to pretend, that your microG is Google Play services.
And this poses a HUGE security threat and I have decided to not go this way. But if you are willing to try:
Without Google Play services and without microG, some apps just don't work. I have written to developers of many of those apps, but most of them did not reply at all, and those who did provided reply similar to this one:
Some developers are simply Google platform developers
So I took the "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome" approach and I am slowly finding solutions and alternatives.
Here is the list of all the apps that I had to stop using because they have just stopped working:
There are numerous apps that are not working on a de-googlified phone and have good web interfaces that allow full usage of such apps.
Shortcuts for webpages that are usable from the web interface and are not working on de-googlified phone.
More info about apps I find useful (that are available on F-Droid) can be found in my previous article.
Long story short: It works! I have used the degooglified phone for a few months now and I live the same life as before. Some compromises were tough to make, but for the privacy that I have regained, it was definitely worth it.