If you are someone who is a bit paranoid and concerned about your privacy after all of the NSA revelations that have come out from documents leaked by Edward Snowden, you are not alone. Whether you are concerned about private companies or your local government, the fact of the matter is that the Internet and our mobile devices are not as secure as most people think. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be anonymous and undocumented on the Internet, and the right to privacy is one of the most basic, fundamental human rights that is supposed to be protected by many different democratic governments around the world. We can no longer expect our governments to respect our right to privacy, so it may be time to turn to technology to protect our rights iPhone users are out of luck because the NSA claims they have a 100% success rate whenever they try to target an iPhone user, but Android owners may still have a chance when it comes to encrypting communications and avoiding government-sponsored malware. Let’s take a look at how you can remove Google and other problematic aspects of your Android phone.
A Fair Warning
Before we get started with the details of removing Google, you must realize that it is unlikely you will be able to use a mobile phone in a private and secure manner. Most, if not all, of these devices are impossible to control completely because certain hardware aspects of the phone communicate with the software in a closed-source manner. This means that you won’t be able to make sure that you are completely secure whenever you are using a smartphone. You also have to remember that your phone will have to communicate with cell towers to be useful off of a Wi-Fi network, which means your location can always be triangulated rather easily. There are a few projects in the works to fix these issues, such as the Neo 900, but we are still rather far away from a completely open software and open hardware mobile device. If you’re after complete security, you’ll have to follow the advice of Richard Stallman and simply refuse to own a mobile phone.
Step 1: Choosing a New Operating System
The first thing you will need to do to enhance the freedom you get to experience with your mobile phone is completely remove the operating system and flash a new OS to the device. There are many options available these days when it comes to rooting your phone, but the two options that are more secure and efficient than the others are Cyanogenmod and Replicant. In reality, these are really two different version of the same operating system. Cyanogenmod is an open source, slimmed-down version of Android, while Replicant takes some of the core principles of Cyanogenmod to the next level. With Replicant, even the firmware found underneath the main operating system is open source. The only problem with Replicant is that it is currently only available for a handful of devices. Replicant is a project that is still under development, which means it won’t be widely used at any point in the near future. You can go ahead and choose Replicant if your device is listed on their website and supported, but everyone else will need to use Cyanogenmod.
Step 2: Flashing Your New Operating System
This is the part of the process that is going to get a bit technical. If you’re not someone who likes to play around with computers and other devices, then you’ll probably want to get a friend to help you out here. Most people have that friend they call whenever their computer seems to be messing up. That’s the guy you’ll want to call to flash a new operating system to your phone. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys technology and are confident in your ability to follow directions, then you’ll probably be able to take care of this step on your own. There are a few things that you need to do to flash your new operating system:
Root your phone to unlock extra features and the ability to flash a new OS to the device.
Download the .zip file that contains your new operating system from the Cyanogen or Replicant website.
Flash the new operating system to your phone and replace everything else that is currently on your device.
It’s important to point out that the exact instructions for the first step of this process is going to be a bit different for every device. Some manufacturers like to make it difficult on their customers when it comes to replacing the proprietary operating system on the phone, so you’ll have to do this portion of the research on your phone. The forum at the XDA Developers website is the perfect place to start if you’re going to be going through these steps on your own. You will usually be able to find a complete guide for rooting your specific device on their website, and you’ll also be able to get answers to any of the questions you have along the way.
Step 3: Download F-Droid
Once you have rooted your phone and flashed your new operating system onto the device, you will notice that Google is nowhere to be found. You have to manually install applications from Google during the flashing process if you are going to continue to use their apps in the future, but we don’t even need to think about that part of the flashing process since we don’t want Google to be tracking our activities. The only problem left is the fact that it seems like there is no way to download any apps. This is where F-Droid comes into play. F-Droid is a free and open source app store that allows you to download everything you will need to use your phone in a secure manner. You can find the app store at www.f-droid.org. The most important aspect of this app store is that every app you can download from the store is free software. This is free as in both price and freedom. You can review the entire source code of any app that is available on F-Droid, which means any nefarious or evil backdoors in the software could be easily found by a nosy developer. If security is your main priority, you should only be using free and open source software on all of your devices.
Step 4: Setting Up Your Phone
Since you are not going to be using the Google Play Store on your phone, you will need to find some apps to replace the ones that you’ve used in the past. Here are some of the main pieces of software that you will want to download from the F-Droid app store:
Firefox is the best option for browsing the web, and many people use this app on their normal computing devices without realizing that it is completely free and open source software.
If you like to listen to podcasts, then you’ll want to get Antenna Pod.
K-9 Mail is the best email client, but you’ll still want to delete your Gmail account and find a new place to store your emails in the future. There aren’t many secure options when it comes to email right now, but RiseUp.net is one option to turn to if you are desperate to get away from Google’s prying eyes. MyKolab is another option, but you will have to pay to use their email service. The reason that you have to pay is that they are not mining your emails for data like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and many other email providers.
If you like to frequent Reddit, then RedReader Beta is the app for you. It has most of the features of many of the proprietary Reddit apps found on the Google Play Store.
If you thought you were going to be lost without Google Maps, then you’ll be happy to learn about OsmAnd. This is a free, open source navigation app that will help you find your way around any part of the globe.
There are many other apps found in the F-Droid app store, so don’t be afraid to look around and download the ones that seem to offer something unique.
At the end of the day, choosing security over convenience is still not a very easy option. Some people cannot handle the idea of not being able to check Facebook on their phones every few minutes, but that’s the kind of sacrifice you need to make if you really care about your personal privacy. The reality is that private companies and governments from around the world are not stealing your information in most cases. Handing your data over to a third party may not seem like a big deal, but the Summer of Snowden showed us that we need to think twice before we store all of our pictures, messages, contacts, appointments and everything else in the cloud. This guide should give you a chance to take your privacy back and make sure that you are doing everything in your power to let your government and all of the big tech firms in Silicon Valley that you don’t agree with what they’re doing with everyone’s data.