A few months ago I decided to
de-Google my phone.
I had no strong reason to do it, other than for the novelty of it.
It also didn’t really make sense to me that my Google account should be tied to my entire device.
Of course, doing this comes with some significant user-friendliness tradeoffs.
So here’s a list of tools that I use to make that tradeoff as painess as possible.
Arriving at this list, and getting to a good level of comfort with the new OS took quite a bit of browsing reddit and blogs to see what others have done, so I hope this post will make the process easier.
Also, I’m by no means a security expert so if anyone sees something I did that is counterproductive I’d be really happy to hear about it.
I always opt for free and open source software (FOSS) when possible.
This is an ongoing post, I’ll add updates as I come across them.
TLDR: I have no regrets.
Things I sacrificed
- Navigation-based apps. Google Maps, Waze, Uber, Uber Eats all depend on Google Maps so they will not work at all. In the next section I propose some workarounds.
- Google Camera (kind of). One of the main reasons I got the Pixel was for its superior camera. Which turns out a good chunk of why it’s so good is thanks to proprietary post-processing algorithms. Open Camera is a solid FOSS alternative, and it uses Camera API 2, but photos are still disappointing in my opinion. I also found a workaround for this which is in the next section.
Things I did not sacrifice
- Social media. All the major social media apps have very nice FOSS alternatives.
- Battery Life. Thanks to way less tracking and cross-talk between apps, I noticed a significant increase in battery life.
Operating System: GrapheneOS
The most important step was to install an Android OS that does not have any Google dependencies. Edward Snowden, a hero of mine, recommended Graphene OS as an open source OS with strong privacy and security features. What’s nice about Graphene is that it runs on Pixel devices, so no need to get a pinephone, and it can run any Android app (modulo any Google Services dependencies). I’m not an OS guy so I can’t say much about the core features but one of them seems to be addressing memory allocation to reduce attack surface. The installation process was quite easy. I followed this tutorial since it was my first time installling an OS on a phone. At the end you get something that looks identical to stock Android which is what you get with any Pixel phone. You will notice that you don’t need to provide a Google account when setting up the device, and there is no Google Play store, or any of the other Google apps that are hard-installed.
App Store: F-Droid
This is like the Google Play store, except all the apps on it are FOSS. Lots of great stuff on there.
App Store: Aurora Droid
When you absolutely need an app that’s not on F-Droid you can use Aurora. This app uses the Google Play API by spoofing a Google account (so you can still use it anonymously) to access Google Play apps. A good deal of apps on here won’t work if they rely on GSF (Google Services). You can download them but they will soemetimes crash immediately.
YouTube: New Pipe
The Starbucks app from Aurora does not work for me. Logging into the browser is okay sometimes, but I found that just taking a screenshot of my barcode and setting the automatic card reloads works perfectly.