Privacy Switch, Part 2: Android

Android is open source, they said.

Well, pure Android source code, obtained from the web, is indeed open source, but when you buy an Android device, it comes with all sorts of proprietary junk: locked down bootloaders, closed firmware, pre-installed bloatware, and of course, the Google apps (GApps) like GMail, G+, YouTube and Maps.

While the closed source bootloader is unlikely to track you (though it does restrict you), the real problem here is the pre-installed proprietary apps. You need to get rid of them and replace them with libre apps, which don’t track you, and are usually better anyway.

Enter F-Droid.

F-Droid is a store that provides only libre/open source apps. At the time of writing this, it has some 800+ apps. You can get F-Droid from here.

So the next time you’re looking for an app, search on F-Droid first, and turn to Google Play only if F-Droid doesn’t have what you need. And even if you download something from Google Play, make sure you check the permissions the app needs, and then use your brains. Does that clock widget really need to modify/delete SD card elements? This simple move can make a lot of difference.

However, it doesn’t change what the apps already present do. For that, you need to find libre alternatives on F-Droid, and replace them. For instance…

  • Try out K-9 Mail. I find it a better email client than the default GMail or Email.
  • For to-do lists, you could use either the feature-packed Mirakel, or the lightweight Simply Do instead of Evernote or Any.DO.
  • There are feed readers too: check out Sparse RSS and FeedEx.
  • You can access the Google services using GApps Browser.
  • And a lot more. Take your time to explore F-Droid.

You might also want to root your device, so that you can remove the proprietary bloatware.

Talking about rooting, consider installing Replicant or CyanogenMod. They’re both libre/open source ROM’s. And again, remember, F-Droid first.

While these acts are far from extreme, they can save a lot of your data from being spied, while still keeping your device usable. Of course, I haven’t discussed many things here, like navigation apps, instant messaging and internet calling apps, etc. That’s because they deserve a separate blog post. Till then, go discover F-Droid.

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