My journey in (almost completely) degoogling my life, part 2

In part 1 I went through the the reasons and the steps I took to start off my degoogling journey and suggested that F-droid is worth a try to explore open source alternatives.

Part 2 will focus on getting things running on an Android phone. As mentioned before, replacing your Android OS with an AOSP based OS will be conditioned on what phone model you own. Ironically, the easiest and safest (from a cyber security point of view) devices to get an AOSP based OS on are Google's Pixel phones. As a rule of thumb, you want a Pixel model which is not extremely recent (it takes a few months for developers to get AOSP running smoothly on a just-out model). There are many other devices which can run various google-less android operating systems, but it is hit and miss. XDA Developers forum is an excellent place to start searching with what your phone model is compatible with.

Since I own a Pixel 3a, I will keep to refer to my experience with getting things running for the rest of this post. After trying out open source alternatives from the F-droid store for a few months, I considered that I was able to make the jump to degoogling my mobile device and I settled on GrapheneOS.

This is a security (cyber security) focused operating system. It strips all Google from Android, including the DNS server which is set by default to Google Public DNS on Android AOSP. It also has numerous other security features which you can read about in detail on their website. It only works on Google Pixel phones and thanks to Pixels being so open about other Android OS (ROM) being installed, the process of installing GrapheneOS is extremely straight forward, especially when compared to other phones. The process is explained in detail on their website. An alternative to GrapheneOS which focuses similarly on security and is completely Google free is CalyxOS. CalyxOS is similar to GrapheneOS in many ways, a bit less secure than GrapheneOS, but will fit the security needs of any average user. It also seems to be a bit faster. CalyxOS also has a very limited list of supported devices. That being said, if you don't have a phone model which is not in the list have a look on the XDA Developers forum and see what ROMs are available for your specific model, LineageOS is a popular option. Changing the operating system on a phone is risky, so thread carefully and follow instructions precisely.

Be extremely careful when installing a ROM. It must be the correct version on the correct phone model. Getting it wrong will most likely turn your phone in a paperweight!

After booting into a fresh GrapheneOS installation, and getting over the fact that it just boots in to the system without having to give my email and personal details, the first thing to do was to get F-droid installed off their website so I can install my preferred apps. In my previous post I did mention that there will be some compromises to be made. The compromises are both for feature which you accept that you will not have access to. And security compromises. You might decide to keep using an app which is not open source and it's collecting your data because you don't really have a choice or the alternative is just not good enough. These compromises depend on your use case and on your wishes / expectations.

Further more, you can use microG, an app which simulates Google Play Services (without actually having any contact with anything Google related). This in itself is a compromise, although many will argue it is not a compromise at all since microG is open source and doesn't have any connection to Google. MicroG is not a perfect solution, some apps will not work with your de-googled phone even with microG installed. I do use microG in order to facilitate WhatsApp on my phone. As much as I would love to ditch WhatsApp, my family and other institutions I am linked to use it as a main way of communication, so I am stuck with it. In order to get applications which are in the Google Play Store, I (and many others) use Aurora Store. This has exact copies of the apps on the Google Play Store, and it enables you to download and install them anonymously (or with your google account if you wish to give your credentials).

For maps, many people are “addicted” to Google Maps, which is by far the best maps application out there. The open source alternative is OsmAnd+, an app which enables you to use the Open Street Maps API, an open source effort to create a Google Maps alternative. I am perfectly happy with using OsmAnd+, but many others who rely more on Google Maps will go through the hoops to get Google Maps working (microG can allow you to run GMaps). One other type of app to test before diving in is your banking app. It may or may not need Google Play Services to function. Most users report that banking apps work just fine, but there will be some which won't even let you login to check your balance.

One other thing to keep in mind is that in Google's Android, notifications are handled through Google Play Services. That means that on a de-googled Android getting notifications from apps relies on the apps implementing their own notification system. Most open source apps you will get from F-droid will have this implemented. And with apps like WhatsApp you should expect inconsistent notifications (WhatsApp will notify me of messages instantly if it is open in the background and up to 1h later if it's not already open).

If you get to this point, you should already know what you are comfortable with using as alternative and what you think you should keep from the closed source main stream apps.

In the next and last part I will talk about cloud backups and email alternatives to your de-googled experience.

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