When it comes to custom ROM choices, OnePlus users are awash with options! As such, choosing LineageOS vs OxygenOS is a hot topic among OnePlus smartphone owners.
While most users will likely stick with the stock OxygenOS image, LineageOS is a popular alternative. Why might someone choose LineageOS over OxygenOS, given that both purport to be as close to “stock Android” as possible?
For starters, LineageOS is widely known as a great ROM for breathing new life into old smartphones. Owners of dated OnePlus models can keep their software up to date long after it has stopped receiving official updates.
Yet a second reason for reconsidering OxygenOS is now emerging: Privacy.
Privacy from who, you might ask? Both OnePlus itself and, optionally, the Google surveillance dragnet.
OxygenOS and Data Harvesting Backdoors
As a hardware manufacturer, we’ve got to hand it to OnePlus. Their smartphones are of incredibly high build quality and their commitment to unlocked bootloaders is a rarity, especially in the US smartphone market.
However, the stock OnePlus ROM, OxygenOS, has a more sordid history.
2017 was a rough year for OnePlus, the Shenzen-based manufacturer behind OxygenOS, as two major privacy scandals rocked the company.
First came the revelation of OnePlus Analytics, a tool that can only be described as spyware. Privacy researcher Chris Moore unveiled on his blog a set of API calls being made by OxygenOS, and the revelations were startling.
OnePlus was collecting vast swaths of data on OxygenOS users without their consent, including:
IMEI (unique device identifier)
IMSI (unique carrier identifier)
ESSID (wireless network data)
Timestamped application usage
That’s a lot of personally identifiable information.
Just weeks later, another privacy researcher revealed Engineer Mode, a backdoor to OnePlus root access in devices with Qualcomm chips.
Well, as of September 2016, OnePlus merged development of its Chinese-only HydrogenOS with OxygenOS. In other words, the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance requirements are now being applied to OnePlus devices the world over.
Furthermore, OnePlus development of OxygenOS only began after a high-profile trade dispute in India barred them from shipping CyanogenMOD (the predecessor of LineageOS) to that market. Rather than sell OnePlus devices with open-source alternatives by default, OnePlus opted to develop its own OS with spyware in tow.
But if this isn’t enough reason for privacy aficionados to choose LineageOS vs OxygenOS, the second threat to your digital autonomy is far more pervasive.
Google Apps: A Privacy Nightmare
If you’re an Android user concerned about privacy, Google is doubtlessly the biggest threat to your autonomy.
The risks presented to individual privacy by closed-source Google Apps on Android are almost too many to list. Contact tracing. Hyperaccurate location data. Device fingerprinting. Alert snooping.
But when it comes to LineageOS vs OxygenOS, the choice is clear: OxygenOS cannot be degoogled.
LineageOS, by contrast, is almost tailor-made to remove Google spyware.
By default, LineageOS ships with no Google Apps or centralized Google fingerprinting whatsoever. In the battle of who is closest to “stock Android,” LineageOS is the clear winner over OxygenOS and its built-in Google App suite.
In short, if avoiding Google’s heavy-handed surveillance is the reason you bought a OnePlus device, you’re best off getting rid of OxygenOS altogether.
LineageOS vs OxygenOS: In Closing
For the privacy-conscious smartphone user, OxygenOS is simply not preferable.
OnePlus-developed software has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted with sensitive user data. And worse, Google as a whole is equally untrustworthy despite powering a shocking 87% of all mobile internet traffic.
Thankfully, OnePlus’s longstanding commitment to unlocked bootloaders means that smartphone owners aren’t stuck with OxygenOS unless they want to be.
If privacy is at the forefront of your tech concerns, consider flashing LineageOS to your OnePlus smartphone.
And if you’re concerned about Big Tech snoops like OnePlus and Google but are intimidated by the technical nature of changing your smartphone’s OS, you can always purchase a degoogled OnePlus device directly.
The article’s contents are interesting – if not unsurprising – to those against the rising Surveillance Oligarchy. But the reversal from “contact tracing” the supposed ill to instead surveilling the vaccinated is worth noting, as is the method of tracing described in the article.
And just how do the methods being used by the Anglo-American Establishment at Oxford University in the above Telegraph story differ from those being dreamt up by Silicon Valley?
The short answer is that multiple entities (namely your cell carrier, Google, Apple, and their State and corporate affiliates) are all vying for their position in the emergent Panopticon. The long answer has to do with resolution and accuracy of metadata, but we’ll get to that momentarily.
Most people know that contact tracing is a form of person-to-person surveillance using cell phones. Some know that Bluetooth is involved. Others are aware that cell carrier data can be used for contact tracing directly.
The deeper story lies in how each of these methods is accomplished, and by whom.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the technicals of contact tracing – examining the (limited) source code and source documents where possible and unveiling other engineering methods utilized where we can.
So it is no surprise that these surveillance titans, after cornering most of modern web traffic, turned to weaponize it under the auspices of a public health crisis in May of 2020.
Despite a propaganda push to ensure the public that contact tracing surveillance data is “private,” it is anything but – while a lone hacker may have trouble fetching and decrypting packets sent by this contact tracing API, the companies behind contact tracing and their affiliates have already pwned you.
Apple and Google can ruminate all they want that their contact tracing data being sufficiently encrypted and private:
This code from Google’s contact tracing API (or Application Programming Interface), is closed-source and unauditable. But for the layman, the concept of the API is simple – it’s a bit of code that performs calculations from a third-party server and returns data to whoever asked for it.
In the case of Apple and Google’s contact tracing API, they’re the ones crunching the numbers. And they can share those results with whoever they want – governments, health insurance providers, police, intelligence agencies, you name it.
This doesn’t sound very private to me.
Even if identifiers to these API calls are 100% anonymized and encrypted, Apple and Google can still associate your identity based on your Gmail or iCloud device login. In other words, the opposite of private.
While both Apple and Google have alleged methods to disable contact tracing in their settings, there is no way of verifying that this functionality is actually turned off. Apple’s code is entirely closed-source, and while the Android Open Source Project is fairly open, Google’s contact tracing and gApps code is anything but.
And like any good future-proof protocol, the contact tracing API is extensible – in other words, its spec allows transfer of data over Bluetooth that can be defined in the future which may or may not have anything to do with alleged “health” screening:
If Big Tech is good at anything, it’s stacking functions; today’s contact tracing API to fight a supposed global health menace is tomorrow’s turnkey vaccine passport (or social credit system). And the associated metadata predefined by the contact tracing Bluetooth spec demonstrates that additional capabilities were planned from the beginning.
Google has been performing hyperaccurate location snooping via WiFi triangulation for nearly a decade. Contact tracing is simply the latest iteration – spying from device-to-device via Bluetooth. This technology has likely existed for many years as well.
What is surprising is its blatant openness.
While both Apple and Google attempt to bedazzle users with talk of public-private key cryptography on intake servers, make no mistake – every phone with iOS or a Google account installed has a unique fingerprint, which makes associating an encrypted key with your identity relative child’s play:
Given that we have no idea what other metadata is logged by these “ingestion servers” or the associated database schemas, this assurance of anonymity is no more legitimate than a condo on Olympus Mons.
Both Google and Apple took this surveillance apparatus to new heights in late 2020, offering to collate data directly for State agencies without the need for them to build their own applications. Surveillance as a Service.
Yet in a world where cell phone carriers and three-letter agencies already have so much data about us, why have Apple and Google gone to such great lengths to establish their contact tracing APIs?
Privatizing former State apparatuses is one reason. Most people “consent” to smartphone Terms and Conditions, which are admissible in court. It’s hard to say that anyone consents to what happens in Bluffdale, Utah.
But another is granularity of data – Apple and Google already have a direct pipeline into your digital existence, no backdoors required. They log your location. Your emails. Your text messages. Any alert popup whatsoever, an oft-overlooked surveillance tool. Your speech. Even the way you move via accelerometer.
Why steal what is given freely?
Pipelining this data directly to the highest (or most powerful) bidder is an obvious information warfare benefit.
And your cell carrier wants in on the action, too.
Oxford University and the Cell Carrier Snoops
The kind of “vaccine tracing” surveillance described by the Telegraph is a completely different beast. Rather than utilize the contact tracing API data, Oxford University opted to go to cell carriers directly:
Oxford couldn’t take advantage of the contact tracing technology above (yet) as they were explicitly tracking those who’d taken the jab, not those diagnosed with the magic virus.
But as a relatively competent programmer myself, I bet they wish the contact tracing API could fulfill this mandate. The resolution of data and amount of potential information collected is simply much more personal, and in turn, accurate, when using Apple and Google’s API.
And as described above, Google and Apple’s Bluetooth specification is already extensible enough to support this use-case in the future.
Given these limitations, Oxford went to cell phone carriers directly. And there’s still a good amount of data to collect at the cell tower level, from the IMEI (device identifier) to the IMSI (carrier customer identifier). So the above assertion that the data collected is not “individual surveillance” is patently ridiculous, as there’s at least two unique identifiers collected by cell towers off the top of my head.
With 5G, this information nexus expands rapidly.
High-gigahertz spectrum RF like 5G is something of a trade-off – it allows significantly greater resolution of location data on urban serfs and far greater speed of data transmission while making only incremental surveillance gains in the countryside.
So if you are tracking a city like, say, London, for “vaccine reactions,” 5G fits the bill pretty well. What’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander, as they say.
Yet this is also a prime example of mutual back-scratching – while telecoms themselves have a role to play in the emergent Surveillance Oligarchy, cell phone OS companies also stand to benefit from emergent 5G technologies. Imagine a future where Google and Apple have the bandwidth at the cell tower level to “livestream” your camera and microphone perpetually without your consent.
No need to imagine, as in many urban environments, this future is the present.
In this article, we’ve examined two methods of how contact tracing works – the Silicon Valley API method and the cell carrier method, how both can be weaponized for either “health” screening or vaccine tracing, and how the latter’s methods ultimately enforce the former.
As an individual, what can be done to opt out?
Clearly, ticking off the “no contact tracing” option in your smartphone’s settings is simply not sufficient. Especially in a world where vaccine passports will soon supplant “illness” tracing using the same underlying technology.
If you’re using an iPhone, the solution is simple: Pitch it.
If you’re using an Android smartphone, you at least stand a chance against API metadata aggregation, the most dangerous form of corporatocratic surveillance described in this article.
There’s not much that can be done regarding carrier tracking aside from pulling your SIM card or ditching your phone entirely – even flip phones are no longer a viable alternative, with the phaseout of 3G and Google’s recent purchase of KaiOS.
The emergent digital Panopticon is rapidly taking shape around us, and while the front door slammed shut in May of 2020, there are still windows of escape.
When it comes to software that respects your privacy, the open source F-Droid store is your one-stop shop for Android apps.
Whether you’re using a fully degoogled smartphone or simply looking to use FOSS (free and open source) software on your vanilla Android smartphone, F-Droid offers some serious perks over the closed-source and spyware-laden Google Play Store.
Looking to get started with F-Droid? Here’s some of our favorite apps to get you started!
Censorship is rampant. It’s a Google property. And the YouTube app’s inability to block ads or listen to videos with your phone’s screen off (unless you pay up, of course) is problematic, to say the least.
That’s where NewPipe comes in. It’s an open-source YouTube scraper that allows you to watch videos, subscribe to creators, and even download content without using a Google account.
NewPipe is also ad-free by default!
You can even listen to videos with NewPipe while your phone’s screen is shut off. 😉 It’s a great touch for listening to podcasts and music on the go!
2. AntennaPod + Feeder
Okay, this one’s cheating a bit. AntennaPod and Feeder are two separate apps.
But they’re both RSS feed parsers, so that makes it okay, right?
AntennaPod is a podcasting app. It’s arguably the best Android podcatcher out there, open source or not. The fact that it’s available on the open source F-Droid shop is just icing on the cake.
AntennaPod can take manual RSS feed submissions if you want to subscribe to your favorite creators directly. It also supports PodcastIndex, a new podcast aggregation service trying to compete directly with iTunes and Spotify. There are even apps pushing blockchain-hosted podcasts directly to AntennaPod!
Feeder, by contrast, is for text-based RSS feeds. Why let algorithms serve your news to you? With Feeder, you can subscribe to your favorite blogs and news outlets directly and get them pushed straight to your degoogled smartphone.
Dictate by algorithm is one of the most insidious methods used by Big Tech to manipulate social outcomes. RSS-based apps like AntennaPod and Feeder go a long way in fixing this.
Your degoogled phone doesn’t have Gmail. That’s probably for the best.
But how do you manage the rest of your email accounts? Individual browser apps are cumbersome, and if you’re managing multiple inboxes, they can quickly become a chore.
FairEmail is a fantastic open source F-Droid email client. They support Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, Yandex, and all POP3 accounts by default. And if you know your email server’s credentials, you can add any self-hosted email client as well.
Email is, by its nature, not a private technology. But limiting the number of services that have access to your emails by default is still a worthwhile endeavor.
As a runner-up, ProtonMail also has a closed-source app that you can install via Aurora Store. However, self-hosted email inboxes are always preferable to third-parties, even encrypted ones.
It’s a portal to the same apps you know and love in Google’s Play Store, but with an open source and privacy-respecting implementation. If you simply can’t go without some of your favorite “normal” apps, Aurora Store is the best place to get them.
How does Aurora Store respect your privacy while downloading apps from Google services, though?
First and foremost, Aurora Store does not require a Google account or login. They create an anonymous account on your behalf to avoid leaking data to Google.
The second cool feature offered by Aurora Store is device spoofing. This basically allows your phone to “lie” to Google services about your device type and language when downloading apps and offers a huge privacy boost over using Google Apps directly.
But be wary – many degoogled ROMs do not actually support device spoofing by default!
All phones we sell here at PrivacyToGo support device spoofing and we have a more comprehensive article on this topic here.
Whether you’re using a fully degoogled smartphone or simply looking to reduce your dependency on Google spyware, installing and using apps from F-Droid is a great start.
Some of the apps you’ll find in F-Droid might not be as polished or feature-rich as you’re used to, but the trade-off in terms of privacy is unparalleled. We hope this brief guide gets you started on your journey using more FOSS software on Android!
Your phone is constantly scanning for WiFi access points wherever it goes, and Google has been logging and stealing locations of all routers in the world for over a decade.
In short, if your phone is ever within range of a router whose location Google knows, they also know exactly where your phone is, even without GPS.
The signal strength of your WiFi isn’t just for your convenience, it’s also used to determine your location in vicinity to a wireless access point.
With the advent of contact tracing technology, Google is now admitting they can also do this with Bluetooth in relation to other people’s phones.
Very creepy stuff! For some people, the convenience of Google Maps is worth this trade-off. But it’s important to understand just how large this violation of privacy is in order to make informed decisions.
Alternatives to Google Maps
Now that we’ve identified why Google Maps is such an affront to your privacy, let’s explore some alternatives for GPS on a degoogled phone.
This is Will Smith in Enemy of the State.
Don’t be like Will Smith.
OsmAnd+ is an open-source client that uses Open Street Maps for navigation. It is by far the most popular open-source GPS client and also the best.
In addition to being open-source and privacy-respecting by default, OsmAnd+ also has a number of unique features, like the ability to download and use maps completely offline!
OsmAnd+ is far from perfect, though. You won’t have the convenience of simply searching for a business and mapping to it as you do in Google Maps.
And sometimes, Open Street Maps will have trouble pulling a location from an address. You might have to resort to using coordinates instead.
But overall, it’s a very serviceable GPS app for occasional mapping needs.
Does anyone remember MapQuest? Well, they’re still alive and kicking!
Rather than use GPS directly, you can use a service like MapQuest to deliver directions to your phone. You won’t get turn-by-turn directions this way, but you will have a predefined route that you can follow.
Is this less convenient than Google Maps? Definitely.
Is using a service like MapQuest worth it to retain your privacy? That’s up to you.
Before the advent of smartphones, standalone GPS was the only option for turn-by-turn navigation.
And thankfully, it’s still a great option!
GPS companies are not data surveillance companies like Google – their business is selling GPS units and making sure you get from Point A to Point B.
They make their money by providing you with a good product and service, not by spying on you and selling your data to third-parties.
GPS units aren’t cheap – a good one can cost upwards of $100, almost the cost of another budget smartphone. But they offer a great mapping experience without surrendering your autonomy in the process.
Use Two Phones
This option may sound counterintuitive at first, but it’s actually the method we use here at PriviacyToGo.
The method is simple:
Use your degoogled phone for 99% of your daily use
Keep a second phone as a backup, turned off (and ideally in a faraday cage) and use it only for GPS
This is a great option for those who have an old cell phone lying around – and who doesn’t have an old phone or two collecting dust somewhere? 🙂
You also get another benefit from going this route, and that’s the ability to use your old phone as a honeypot for your privacy.
Your old phone, whose identity Google and countless other trackers already know, will generate a “false” fingerprint of your phone usage habits. All the while, your “real” phone, the degoogled one, is not leaking this information to Big Tech.
This option is also ideal for professional couriers, like those who drive for Uber and Lyft, who require Location Services to do their job.
When it comes to GPS on a degoogled phone, there are a lot of options at your disposal.
Some options, like standalone GPS, are even more convenient than using Google Maps. Others sacrifice some convenience in exchange for increased privacy.
If you are the type of person who only uses GPS every now and then, all of the above options are great to consider. Heavy GPS users might require a bit more forethought.
Either way, life after Google doesn’t mean a life without GPS!
A user on the awesome No Agenda Social app raised some interesting points regarding our latest article. Rather than keep them to ourselves, we figured we’d share our response as a blog post in case anyone else raises these questions in the future.
Thanks for the valuable feedback – our intent here is not to confuse, but to illuminate, and you’ve brought up some good points that require more specificity. We have no dog in this proverbial fight as both Lineage and Graphene are great OSes, we just think the former is a bit more n00b friendly.
That being said, Pixels sold from US carriers are notorious for poor bootloader unlock compatibility. Some carriers require a SIM unlock first (T-Mobile, AT&T) and others, like Verizon, have locked bootloaders in perpetuity. A brief search of the XDA-Developers forum will demonstrate how much difficulty there is in trying to unlock a bootloader on handsets with an incompatible SKU.
Pixels outside of the CDMA-dominated US market are largely unlockable, and many European countries have laws specifically disallowing bootloader and SIM locks. So if you’re in Europe, this device compatibility issue probably doesn’t apply to you 🙂
The only way to absolutely guarantee bootloader unlockability on a US Pixel out of the box is by purchasing a Pixel from Google directly or sourcing an aftermarket phone that was purchased from the Google Shop. Google’s nomenclature refers to these as “Google Edition” and “Developer Edition” in their package inserts depending on the generation. It’s great if you can source non-OEM Pixels with unlockable bootloaders, but you’re at the whims of the carrier here. We hear Best Buy sells OEM Pixels in the US, so that’s another option.
For the record, the LineageOS team also refuses to add signature spoofing by default. That’s why we focus on the MicroG fork of Lineage in particular here at PrivacyToGo as we feel providing disinformation to Google is not just a cool feature, but a moral obligation 😉
The trade-off here is clear: Security or privacy, which do you value more? If you’re using Aurora via Graphene right now and value your privacy, we’d highly recommend you uninstall it and use an alternative like APKPure instead. You’ll sacrifice push notifications and easy updates, but if your intent is to avoid Big Tech snitches, Aurora Store without metadata disinformation is still giving Google a decent amount of usage data about you.
If you can ride with Graphene in perpetuity, God bless you, truly. It’s an OS that’s designed for open-source apps first and foremost. Most people aren’t willing to make that trade-off to preserve privacy (yet), but we hope the world will get there in time.
However, there are subtle differences when comparing LineageOS vs GrapheneOS that are worth exploring.
Here at PrivacyToGo, we’ve chosen to focus our efforts on the microG fork of LineageOS, though we’re happy to flash GrapheneOS for Pixel customers on request.
Why do we think LineageOS is the best degoogled ROM for most people? Let’s get into it!
GrapheneOS is only supported by Google Pixel devices. That may change in the future, but for now, if you want to use GrapheneOS, you have to use a Google smartphone.
Furthermore, you cannot use just any old Pixel phone. You have to secure a Google Edition Pixel in order to flash GrapheneOS or any other custom ROM. This means that the vast majority of Pixels out there cannot actually be degoogled as their bootloaders are locked.
If you want to ensure you’re getting a degoogleable Pixel, you have to buy it directly from Google.
We don’t like the idea of lining Google’s pockets to escape Google.
GrapheneOS comes installed with only one app store, the open-source F-Droid store.
LineageOS also comes with F-Droid. It’s a fantastic service and we would strongly recommend looking for open-source apps on F-Droid before turning to Google Play!
But if you want to use your favorite apps from the Google Play store, you won’t find them in F-Droid. You’ll have to install them some other way.
On modified builds of LineageOS, there’s a great app called Aurora Store that allows you to download apps directly from Google in 100% anonymity. This is called device spoofing and feeds disinformation to Google about your device type, language, and even location.
You get the security and convenience of Google’s Play Store while retaining your privacy. It’s a win-win.
By contrast, a GrapheneOS user who wants to install their favorite app is going to have to install files from a third-party source that may or may not be secure. Yikes! An advanced user knows how to avoid these pitfalls, but your average smartphone user is sure to make mistakes here that could compromise their security.
LineageOS is here to stay.
The project has been around since 2016 and is the direct descendant of CyanogenMOD, the earliest Android ROM that started all the way back in 2011.
In comparison, GrapheneOS is much younger and had a very rocky start to its development. Their team is growing and the project is doing some amazing stuff, but it’s yet to prove the test of time in the same way as LineageOS.
Hardened Memory Allocators and Other Niceties
This is one area where GrapheneOS takes the cake.
They are pioneering alternate implementations of a lot of Android features to reduce attack vectors, but their hardened memory allocator is probably the most impressive. This is a very low-level feature that the average person would never encounter, but if you’d like, you can read more about memory allocators here.
A security professional, for example, may have good reason to choose GrapheneOS over LineageOS.
When it comes to LineageOS vs GrapheneOS, they’re both excellent choices.
Advanced users might gravitate towards GrapheneOS, whereas LineageOS is much closer to being “soccer mom approved.”
Open-source fanatics ready to leave behind all “normal” apps will also find GrapheneOS more appealing.
And frankly, if you’re the type of person who loves nerding out over AOSP ROM choices, you can probably flash GrapheneOS or LineageOS yourself! There’s a guide over at No Agenda Phone that can get you started with Graphene flashing, and a bevy of device-specific guides for LineageOS on their wiki.
It all depends on your device, personal preference, and level of knowledge. But for the average smartphone user, LineageOS is simply much more approachable and user-friendly.
Finally, if all this talk of ROM flashing and device selection is more than you want to deal with, we’ve got you covered. Head on over to our shop, where we sell a wide variety of degoogled phones ready to use out of the box.