by Alessandro Ebersol (Agent Smith)
We come to part seven of this series, and let's cover Google's mobile operating system, Android.
Android was created by Andy Rubin at his company, Android Inc, founded in 2003 in Palo Alto, California.
A little history ...
Android Inc. was founded in Palo Alto, California, in October 2003 by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears and Chris White. Rubin described the Android project as "tremendous potential in the development of smarter mobile devices, more aware of its owner's location and preferences." The company's first intentions were to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras, and that was the basis of its April 2004 investor presentation. The company then decided that the camera market was not big enough for its goals, and five months later it had diverted its efforts and was launching Android as an operating system for mobile devices, which would rival Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile.
Rubin struggled to attract investors from the start, and Android, Inc. was facing eviction from its office.
In July 2005, Google acquired Android Inc. for at least $50 million (US). Its key employees, including Rubin, Miner and White, joined Google as part of the acquisition. Not much was known about the secret Android at the time, with the company providing few details beyond that it was producing mobile software. At Google, the team led by Rubin developed a mobile platform with the Linux kernel. Google, then, marketed the platform to handset makers and carriers with the promise of providing a flexible and upgradeable system. Google had "aligned a number of hardware components providers and software partners and signaled operators that they were open to varying degrees of cooperation."
Android is the world's top selling operating system on smartphones since 2011 and tablets since 2013. As of May 2017, it has more than two billion monthly active users, the largest installed base of any operating system, and by December 2018, the Google Play Store has over 2.6 million apps, indicating the platform's undisputed success. Thanks to Android's "open" nature, many other operating systems have been based on it (FireOS, Indus OS, LeWa OS, LineageOS, MIUI, OmniROM, OxygenOS, Paranoid Android, Replicant, and others).
The danger lies in your pocket
I've already written a lot about how Google monitors users of its services, so I won't repeat it here. I will just be more specific on the Android subject. Yes, you can have an Android phone, but to have apps, you must have an account with Google. With a Google account, the company will be able to spy on you, know what your apps are, and especially, thanks to Google Play Services, know more about you than your own family.
Google Play Services, the heart of espionage
Google Play Services is the heart of any Android device. Google Play Services acts as the core infrastructure, which acts as a bridge between various applications and Android. Google Play Services acts as a spinal cord between OS and Apps. And, what's worse, it's not uninstallable.
The problem with G-Services is that they consume a lot of data and battery. Not only does the application consume data from the Internet, it also performs data mining on the user's personal data, taking up a large portion of the mobile storage space.
How can we start bypassing Google Play Services? It's not easy, due to the tight integration of Google's services with the internet's own infrastructure, but we'll try.
Micro-G, Google's free alternative
microG is an open source redeployment of Google Play Services. It allows applications that call Google's proprietary APIs to run on AOSP-based ROMs such as Replicant and LineageOS. Acting as a proprietary replacement for Google Apps (GAPPS), it is a powerful tool for regaining your privacy and freedom while enjoying the key features of Android.
- Enable Google Services and Extend Application Support
- On / Offline Location Service
- Light on battery, memory and CPU
- No bloatware
- Works on real devices, test emulators and virtual mobile infrastructure
- Free (open source) (Apache 2.0 license)
Your Android system must support signature spoofing, so GmsCore(Micro-G) can fake the existence of official Google Play services for applications that call Google APIs.
GmsCore includes the Unified Network Location Provider (UnifiedNlp) module, which handles application calls to Google's network location provider. It is based on the location and address search backend, which must be installed separately. For more information about UnifiedNlp and its backend, see the module's wiki.
For a complete microG installation, consider installing a replacement PlayStore application as well as the Services Framework Proxy module (GsfProxy) to provide Google push messaging. UnifiedNlp, even if you are using GmsCore.
Unfortunately, it cannot be integrated with an existing Android installation, but it can be used with free Android ROMS (LineageOS, Replicant, etc...).
Free your Android with Free Software!
F-Droid Repository is an easily installable catalog of free and open source applications for Android. With F-Droid, it's easy to browse and install apps on your device and keep up with updates. You can also browse the repository with a web browser and download the application directly from there if you don't want to run the F-Droid client on your device (side loading).
All applications in the default repository must be free and open source software - for example, released under a GPL or Apache license. Every effort is made to verify that this is indeed the case, both by visual inspection of the source and by creating the application from the published source.
Software that reports user activity without permission (e.g., via Google Analytics) or tracks user behavior (e.g., most advertising platforms) is specifically excluded from the F-Droid repository, as software with the main purpose of interacting with a non-free network service. Of course, you have the freedom to set up your own repository for such software - the server source is available and the client will allow you to add or remove repositories as you see fit.
F-Droid originated as a fork of Aptoide. F-Droid can be installed from its website or Aptoide, but it's not available for download from the Google Play Store (why isn't it?).
To install it, you must allow installation of third party packages in your security settings. In the F-Droid repository, you will find some apps to interact with the Google Play store, preserving your privacy.
Yalp Store lets you download apps from Google Play Store as apk files. It can check for installed application updates and lets you search for other applications. Yalp saves downloaded applications to their default download folder. Other features include browsing categories, viewing and leaving comments, black / white listing apps for updates, free/paid filtering apps, and containing/not containing ads.
In addition to Google Play-related features, Yalp Store has common package manager features: listing, running, installing, and uninstalling local applications. If root is available, Yalp Store can update your apps in the background, install and uninstall system apps.
By default, Yalp Store connects to Google services using an internal account, so you don't have to have a Google account to use it. The only reason to use an active Google account is to access the paid apps you have. Or, you can use a fake account so that Google can't track the apps you download from the Yalp Store.
Unfortunately, this app has not been updated for more than one year, and due to changes that Google has applied to the Play Store, it is no longer operational.
Aurora Store is an unofficial Google Play Store FOSS client with a sleek design. Aurora Store not only downloads, updates, and searches apps like the Play Store, it empowers the user with new features.
For those concerned about privacy, Aurora Store doesn't require Google's proprietary framework (spyware?) to work. It works perfectly with or without Google Play Services or MicroG. However, those who still depend on these services can also use the Aurora Store. Although the Aurora Store was originally based on Sergei Yeriomin's Yalp store, v3.0 is a clean and complete rewrite that follows Material Design and runs on all devices running Android 5.0 or higher.
- Free Software/Open Source
- Beautiful design
Built on the latest material design guidelines
- Fake Accounts
You can sign in and download with fake accounts so you don't have to use your own account. Google revoked Aurora Store's internal accounts.
- Personal Accounts
You can download purchased apps or access your wishlist using your own Google account
- Exodus integration
Instantly see trackers that an app may have hidden in its code.
Raccoon is a free, modern open source APK download application that lets you safely download any Android application available from the Google Play Store on your Linux, Windows or Mac desktop.
Raccoon's appeal is to allow users to install Android applications without sending any information to Google. It also works to store APK files locally (in your PC), uses a "Split APK" format, bypass app region restrictions and improve your phone's battery life.
- Raccoon is free to use.
- Raccoon is 100% open source.
- Available on Linux, Windows and macOS desktop platforms.
- Comprehensive online manual.
- Respects privacy.
- Split APK Installer.
- Ignore region restrictions.
- Revert to previous version updates.
- Lets you store downloaded APK's on your computer.
- Allows you to install APK's from the Play Store on Android devices without the Google Play Store (Amazon Kindle and others)
So a great side loading tool, and you can use a fake account as Raccoon had the ability to access the Play Store with an internal account, but Google revoked Raccoon's internal accounts. It is available on PCLinuxOS repos.
There are also alternative APK stores such as Aptoide and the Amazon App Store, so I won't talk much more about that. Let's now look at alternative ROM options for existing Android devices.
Ubuntu Touch is a mobile version of the Ubuntu operating system. It is adapted to run naturally in a touch screen mobile environment, but is also capable of functioning as a desktop computer in "desktop mode". This aforementioned device to device convergence of environments is where the term "convergence" originates. Ubuntu Touch is created and maintained by the UBports Community, a group of volunteers and passionate people around the world, and is in no way endorsed or affiliated with Ubuntu or Canonical.
The operating system, being maintained by a community, is user-centric, not corporate-centric. Thus, the user experience will always be better in it. Below is the testimony of a happy Ubuntu Touch user on his mobile phone:
"Ubuntu touch is an absolutely beautiful alternative to Android, iOS, LOS(LineageOS), etc. It's focused on privacy, usability and security, with a wonderful community behind it. It's fully gesture-controlled, its fast settings are extremely agile, it supports Android apps, is available for many devices, and above all has convergence. You can connect your phone to an external monitor, pair a bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and have an entire desktop environment running on your phone. It is amazing! I tried to go back to LOS after using Ubuntu Touch for a week and just couldn't!"
A free and open source operating system for smartphones and tablets, based on the Android mobile platform. It is the successor to the popular custom CyanogenMod ROM, which was forked in December 2016, when Cyanogen Inc. announced it was stopping development and shut down the infrastructure behind the project. Because Cyanogen Inc. retained the rights to the Cyanogen name, the project changed its name to LineageOS.
LineageOS was officially released on December 24, 2016, with source code available on GitHub. Since then, LineageOS has been described as highly popular and enthusiastically developed; Within four months of the initial announcement, LineageOS development covered more than 160 phone models and more than one million users, doubling its user base from February to March 2017.
After vanilla Android, it is the most successful AOSP project.
From the mission statement on its website:
"Plasma Mobile aims to become a complete mobile software system. It is designed to give privacy-conscious users complete control over their information and communications. Plasma Mobile takes a pragmatic approach and includes third party software, allowing the user to choose which applications and services to use. It provides a seamless experience across multiple devices. Plasma Mobile implements open standards and is developed in a transparent process, open to community participation."
"PlasmaMobile turns your phone into a fully open hacker's device such as a PC."
- Libre Technologies
- Mobile Plasma (the Plasma desktop on mobile)
- Desktop KWIN / Wayland
- Phone Call / Ofono
- Plasma Apps
- Plasma Widgets
- Ubuntu Touch Apps
- Possibly Sailfish
- Apps Possibly Nemo Apps
However, there are no pre-made ROMs. The user must download all sources and compile the operating system for his mobile phone.
/ e /
/ e / is a fork of LineageOS that aims to be completely free of all Google services. Created by Gaël Duval, one of the creators of the Mandrake distro.
/e/ uses MicroG as a free and open-source replacement for Google Play Services, and Mozilla Location Service for geolocation.
From its website, the / e / mission statement:
/ e / is a non-profit project in the public interest. We create open source mobile operating systems that respect users' data privacy. We are an international team of experienced entrepreneurs, developers and designers and a growing community of contributors.
Free yourself from data slavery! / E / 's first mission is to provide everyone with knowledge and best practices about personal data and privacy. And for those who care, / e / will also provide legal and credible alternatives, starting with mobile phone operating systems.
At the present time, there are three alternatives to install /e/: Buy a cell phone with it pre-installed, mail them your cell phone or download its source from Gitlab and compile for your device (which is a very laborious task).
Paranoid Android is a custom ROM designed to extend the system, working to enhance the existing beauty of Android and following the same design philosophies that were presented by Google for Android Open Source Project.
On All Devices
- On-Site Controls
- PA Camera
- Pocket Mode
- Battery Styles
- Advanced Reset
- Button Configuration
- Recent Application Lock
- Subst rate Support
- Pixel Style Launcher
- Pixel Navbar
- Pie (7.0)
- Color Engine (7.0)
- Immersive Mode (7.0)
- OTA paranoid (7.0)
A mobile operating system focused on security and privacy compatible with Android applications.
- Advanced Button
- Control Alert Slider Support
- Enhancements Camera Enhancements
- Advanced Gesture Control (7.0)
- Zero-day protection
- Prevents many vulnerabilities and makes exploits difficult
- Standard library C and hardened toolchain
- Captures memory corruption and integer overflows
- Hardened core
- High quality kernel and ASLR self-protection
- Stronger sandbox and isolation for applications and services
- Tighter SELinux policies , seccomp-bpf and more Backport
- Security features and faster fixes
- Benefit from upstream changes much earlier than vanilla Android version
- Firewall and network protection
- Along with enhancements such as MAC randomization
- Open source and proprietary services
- Uses alternatives to Google apps / services like F-Droid
- Security-centric user experience changes
- Better standards, more refined permission control
Replicant is a 100% free software Android distribution.
Replicant is a completely free Android distribution running on multiple devices, an open source mobile operating system that emphasizes freedom and privacy/security. It is based on LineageOS and replaces or avoids all proprietary system components such as user space programs and libraries, as well as firmware.
The replicant OS is intended to be an ethical system: it does not send or recommend the use of non-free software.
Many different devices are supported by Replicant to a specific extent for each device. Basic features like graphics, sound and telephony (if applicable) should work for each device (otherwise developers are confident that they will work soon).
The replicant is a community-led effort, currently conducted by few developers. Not all Replicant software should have full features and reliability, even if developers are doing their best.
Replicant was founded in 2010 as a way to bring together initiatives to release the system running on HTC Dream, the first publicly available Android device. The project was initiated by members of LibrePlanet Italia and Software Freedom Conservancy. The first usable version of Replicant was based on Android 1.5, released by the Android Open Source Project: after some work, the basic features of HTC Dream were working. Beginning with version 2.2, Replicant stopped using AOSP as its base and instead started using CyanogenMod, which contains support for more devices.
Most of Android is licensed for free under the Apache 2.0 License. The core of Linux is mainly Free Software under GPLv2. However, there are several components of the standard software stack on devices that are proprietary software. Most notably, almost any component that touches hardware directly is proprietary software. The replicant does not have location tracking (anti) features.
In the Replicant Wiki, you can find a list of open source applications that can be used to replace Google's proprietary applications (Market, Gmail, Maps, etc.). Most notably, it suggests using F-Droid instead of Google Market.
Well, here we end our article on how to have an Android not dependent on Google. Options exist, just choose the one that suits you best, and use your phone without fear.
Next month, we'll take a general look and talk about conclusions and alternatives to Google services.