Android without Google

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.

en 12 Apr 2020
Reading time: 5 minutes
Privacy

The Goal

The objective is to have a phone as before (with as little compromises as possible) and simultaneously:

  1. The phone is not logged-in into Google and no app uses Google Account.
  2. There are no Google Play services.
    Just go that link and see permissions that that app by default has.
    (You need to scroll down and click on the small link "View details" under the "Permission" section.)

Permissions that are by default enabled for Google Play services

LineageOS

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! 😂

In a nutshell, you need custom recovery TWRP, then zip file with LineageOS for your device and fastboot+adb tools to install it.


Getting Apps

Now we need some apps. Of course, we cannot use Google Play Store for obvious reasons.

F-Droid is the new Google Play

Instead of Google Play, there is F-Droid as a main source of apps.

Browser

Let's start with the browser. I chose the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser as my primary phone browser. I used to use Brave but unfortunately, it's not available on F-Droid.

Contacts, Calendar, and Tasks (Todos)

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:

  • ICSx5 for synchronization of ICS links and files (for example Facebook Events)
  • DAVx5 for synchronization of other accounts (for example corporate Google Account)

For tasks/todos I chose an app called simply Tasks. It can be connected to EteSync as well and easily replaces Todoist (which won't run on the phone without Google play services).

Aurora as a Proxy to Google Play

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.)

More info about Aurora can be found on their website and GitLab.

Surprisingly, theose Google apps can be installed via Aurora and they work without Google play services:

Most other apps I regularly use also work. For example Revolut, Spotify, Trello, Disord, and Slack, they all work.

Downloading Apps Directly

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.

The only app I suggest installing this way is Signal because it has self-update and the APK is signed. More info on this topic here.


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

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:

  • There is LineageOS Fork with microG.
  • Here is the explanation of why it is not supported by LineageOS directly.

Compromises

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:

Hi Petr, we use Google services extensively, all user data is saved on Firebase servers (part of Google Cloud Platform). Check out our privacy policy for details. Our app can't work without Google services. David
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:

  • Todoist - I have replaced it with Tasks. This app is great! It looks like Todoist, it works like Todoist and it is open-source and free. Don't forget to donate some Bitcoin to creators!
  • I have replaced Settle Up with Splitwise.
  • For Google Calendar I have chosen Etar.
  • For contacts, I just use the native app that comes with LineageOS.

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.

  • For Uber I use Uber's webpage.
  • Instead of Bolt I use Uber's webpage.
  • For BlaBlaCar I use the webpage.
  • For AirBnb I use the webpage.


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.

Conclusion

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.

Sources

More Readings

Edits

  • Added: DAVx5 & ICSx5 synchronize external calendars (Wed May 27 14:09 2020 +0100)
Found typo? Fix me!