Are you suspicious of tracking on your Android smartphone and want to reduce your reliance on Google services?
We will see in this guide why data is transmitted on Google servers (and servers of your manufacturer), how to disable some of the tracking via your Google account, and show you alternatives, both in terms of ROM and Google Apps and Services!
It is frustrating that the smartphone, this useful technological tool, is also the best spy that has ever been invented.
Even before the advent of the smartphone, personal data has become a real market, allowing advertising agencies to better monetize their campaigns, among other beneficiaries.
This is understandable, since since its inception, the internet promotes free, and despite all, it must be able to pay armies of developers, engineers, ergonomists, computer graphics and other small hands.
Fortunately, it is possible to find free, without you necessarily being the product. Here’s all you need to know to no longer be tracked by Google when you use a smartphone (or other device) Android.
Android Is Open Source So Why Are We Tracked
Android is not it Open Source? Yes. Android Open Source Project gives access to Android source code.
The project is nevertheless led by Google, which maintains and develops it. According to Google, this altruistic effort is a way for the company to promote the internet.
Nevertheless, we must distinguish the Android AOSP, ie without added sugars, the one that is really in your smartphone – which sometimes gives upset stomach. Pure AOSP Android natively exists on almost no smartphone currently on the market.
On your Galaxy, LG, Huawei, and other OnePlus, you have in addition to Android an overlay that can already, in some cases, transmit personal data on the servers of the manufacturer.
But your smartphone has mostly Google Mobile Services (GMS), ie the suite of applications and made by Google API: Google Play Store, Photos, Search, Chrome, YouTube, Gmail, Drive, Duo, Google Play Movies & TV and Google Play Music. The famous GMS, they are not open source. And transmit data to Google each time you use it.
The company explains that this data is used for example to auto-complete what you type in the search bar, improve Youtube recommendations, or speed up your searches in Google Maps.
Because it is thanks to GMS that Google can really monetize Android which is remembered, installed on more than two billion devices (mostly smartphones)! But GMS, or even the overlay of your operator are not the only problems for your privacy.
Correctly Set Your Google Account Settings Or Delete It
You probably also use Google services outside your smartphone: search engine, Google Drive, Gmail, Hangouts.
Now by default your Google account remembers a lot of information: search history, voice search history ‘Ok Google ‘, search history in Google Maps, location with all these elements.
We quickly understand that it is possible to get a pretty clear idea of who you are, what are your interests, political preferences, sexual people with whom you are in regular contact, etc.
It’s important to look at your Google Account settings to prevent the collection of a lot of data. This involves the regular deletion of your History, and disable tracking in My Activity.
There is not only one button: you have to disable this tracking for the Web, localization, youtube search, device information, everything individually. Our colleagues at PaperGeek have written a detailed guide to do this without much effort.
One can also advise the use of a VPN, which adds an encryption layer in the data that passes through your smartphone – while misleading the location in many applications or during web browsing.
A tip that is only valid if you have guarantees on the service provider (usually if the VPN in question is free, it’s bad sign).
You can also choose to permanently delete your Google account and read the next paragraphs to find out how to find the same applications and services, open source version and respectful of your privacy!
Play Store, Chrome, What Alternatives For Google Apps And Services
With the ROM of your manufacturer, you will not be able to avoid any tracking, but you can at least limit it.
It starts with using alternatives for each of the GMS applications. You will still encounter a real problem using alternatives: say goodbye to convergence, and the continuity of the user experience.
Google flows so much: the Chrome browser is the most used in the world, and we use, it told you quantity of Google services.
However, there are many new alternatives in this area, and they are becoming better designed. Let’s talk about applications first: even the Google Play Store transmits data to Google (without really knowing which).
It is therefore necessary to find alternatives for all the applications of the GMS suite. For some, it’s easier than for others. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
- Google Play Store: F-droid can allow you to enjoy the security of a store, but only filled with free applications. It is not as provided as the Google Play Store. There is also Aptoide, as an alternative
- Chrome: use a more secure browser like Firefox Focus for example
- Gmail: delete your gmail address, and opt for an alternative service like ProtonMail developed by scientists from MIT and CERN around privacy – also exists with an app to read mail (which is called the same)
- Photos: Aperture for Android is a great alternative 100% open source
- Google Search Engine: after struggling with the approximate results of DuckDuckGo, we thought it was time to recommend a better alternative. Qwant is a French search engine that does not track its users AND provides results as relevant (if not more) than Google!
As far as services are concerned, it is essential to turn to Framasoft, a French association that can not be ignored since its goal is to de-migrate the global internet.
For this, Framasoft offers alternative services to those offered by Google and other giants with little respect for privacy: Google Docs becomes Framapad, Google Spreadsheet becomes Framacalc, Google Doodle becomes Framadate, Maps becomes Framacarte.
You can consult the complete list of these alternative services (it is long) directly on the Framasoft website. All are not provided by the association, they are nevertheless generally practical, ergonomic and have a neat design.
Install An Alternative Rom
As long as you do not fully master the ROM that is installed on your smartphone, you will never be sure that your privacy is not threatened. It is not always possible to install an alternative ROM.
This is why in advance, it is better to focus on some manufacturers of smartphones rather than others.
The Google Pixel and Nexus, Lenovo and Motorola, OnePlus, Samsung Galaxy, Sony Xperia, and Xiaomi are generally better choices from this point of view.
Then find the ROM for your model and follow the instructions (often complex, without being too wizard) to install them.
The ideal is to get your hands on a pure AOSP ROM, but if this is not possible, there are two other alternatives (they also not always available depending on your model).
Let’s talk first about LineageOS (ex-Cyanogenmod): maintained by volunteers, this fork of Android is part of what is closest to a pure AOSP. There is also Mission Improbable, a more secure version of Android developed by the creators of TOR.
Conclusion: No Longer Being Tracked By Google Has Become Difficult Mission More Than Impossible
As you have seen, it is possible to prevent tracking Google, but this implies, in addition to abandoning the solutions provided by Google, to change your habits a little.
Obviously, for all this to work at best, you must first choose a smartphone model that will be compatible with the custom ROM of your choice.
It will also go through open source application stores often significantly less provided than the Play Store.
In some cases, too, you will need to convert your colleagues and friends to share on the same platform.
These being alternative solutions to Google’s services exist, and are becoming more and more competitive.
Until recently, the conclusion of this file would have been to tell you that this is almost an impossible mission, but things are getting better.
So yes, it will probably take a little dirty hands to achieve a satisfactory result, but it became clearly possible to no longer be tracked by Google, without necessarily returning to the early 1990s, and you, go you take the plunge? Share your opinion with the community in the comments!