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De-Googling Android


By Rom Feria

A few weeks ago, a paper distributed by the Digital Content Next (DCN) <““> reported the results of the research conducted by Vanderbilt University Computer Science Professor Douglas C. Schmidt on Google’s Data Collection. In summary, Google collects vast amounts of data when users are actively using Google applications, e.g., YouTube, Chrome, Search, but Google also collects data when the applications are running on the background, without the users knowing, e.g., via Google’s web-tracking. Whilst I have been almost completely Google-free (I don’t use Google Search, I use DuckDuckGo <““>; I download YouTube videos, using a command-line interface, for offline viewing; I don’t use Android or ChromeOS; I limit the use of Chrome; and I block Google ad trackers), I have been thinking of getting a more affordable Android smartphone to serve as my back-up and portable hotspot/wifi. Whilst there are plenty of make and models to choose from, the fact that Android is running just makes it such a Google collection utility. So I needed an Android replacement. What are my choices?

Old Model iPhone
Well, I said affordable. Unless it is a second-hand unit, iPhones are not that affordable. It is true that the cheapest one, the iPhone 5c, can be hand at the same price as some of the more recent Android models, that is just it - the iPhone 5c is not recent. In fact, Apple will not be supporting it when iOS 12 comes out soon. The iPhone SE can be upgraded to the new iOS 12, but I am hoping for its price to come down considerably to be even considered as my back-up pocket wifi device.

Amazon FireOS
Amazon’s FireOS is based on the open source Android operating system. It is currently the only active non-Google Android ecosystem that I know of that is commercially available (there are several others, but they don’t have a well thought of ecosystem as Amazon’s). Unfortunately, Amazon seems not interested in making smartphones anymore. Their Kindle Fire Tablets are great and affordable devices, but I’d rather have one in the smartphone form-factor. In addition, Amazon is just like Google, it collects as much data as it could.

Another Android-based project is LineageOS <““>. Unlike Amazon’s FireOS, LineageOS is community-driven - a great testament to the power of the open source community! The roots of LineageOS came from the then popular CyanogenMod ROM. When Cyanogen decided to stop supporting it, the community took over and established LineageOS.
LineageOS is a mobile operating system that is completely free from any commercial trackers, such as Google and Amazon. Google uses its proprietary Play Store to do some of those passive data collection, so LineageOS does not come with Play Store support by default (yes, you can add it, but that defeats the purpose of going Google-free). In place of the Play Store, you can get your mobile applications from F-Droid <““>, a community-maintained third-party, free and open source application repository. The downside, however, is that if the application is not open source. In this case, Play Store is your only option, besides side-loading the applications by getting the APKs.

The Plan
Installing LineageOS is the best way to de-Google an Android smartphone. Whilst I do not intend to use the smartphone as any other device than as a portable hotspot/wifi, now I am on the lookout for the most affordable Android smartphone that is supported by LineageOS. It is a good thing that the LineageOS community has maintained a list of compatible devices <““>. Whilst I prefer the build quality of Google and Moto, I prefer one that has dual-SIM support, which leaves me with Xiaomi or HTC. The search for the exact model continues.

Which one would you recommend?


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