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5 Open Source F-Droid Apps That Rock

fdroid

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!

1. NewPipe

We certainly understand why people don’t like YouTube these days.

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.

3. FairEmail

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.

4. OsmAnd+

OsmAnd+ is an open source navigation app.

It’s not as user-friendly as Google Maps or as full-featured as Waze. But if you value your autonomy and privacy, even while using GPS, OsmAnd+ is a great option.

And if you’re using OsmAnd+ on a fully degoogled phone, then you can rest assured that Google’s location services and creepy WiFi triangulation technology aren’t active.

We’ve got a full article on using GPS with degoogled phones here.

5. Aurora Store

Aurora Store is the premier Google Play Store replacement.

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.

In Closing

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!

For those who want to take smartphone privacy to the next level, a fully degoogled smartphone is the natural next step.

Stay informed, stay free.

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GPS on a Degoogled Phone

One of the most common questions we get about degoogled phones is, “Can I use GPS on a degoogled phone?”

The confusion here is understandable!

By its nature, a degoogled phone will not work with Google Maps or Google Navigation services. For some people, this is a huge deal-breaker.

However, all hope is not lost. There are a lot of options for navigation outside of Google Maps, and even outside of cell phones themselves.

But before we talk about alternatives to Google Maps on degoogled phones, let’s talk about why Google Maps itself is so dangerous to your privacy.

Weaponized WiFi

Ever wonder how your Android or iPhone device has such insanely accurate location data?

“Normal” GPS is only accurate within a few hundred yards, but Google can peg your location within mere feet!

They do this through a technology called WiFi triangulation.

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+

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.

MapQuest

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.

Standalone GPS Unit

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.

In Closing

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!

Ready to take the next step? We sell degoogled phones at our shop.

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Will The Linux Phone Ever Take Off?

Let’s talk about the possibility of a user-friendly Linux Phone… by talking about the present of the Linux Desktop.

I’ve been using Linux as a daily driver for almost 10 years. My first experience was not a great one.

The Linux Desktop

Sometime in 2006, I eagerly burned a copy of Ubuntu Dapper Drake and installed it on my desktop. I didn’t know the first thing about the open-source software movement, but the idea of a free (as in beer) OS was understandably appealing to a high school kid.

My experiment ended shortly after I failed to connect to the Internet as driver support was scant in those days. D’oh! Back to the familiarity of Microsoft spyware I went.

Six years later and armed with basic command-line skills, I gave Ubuntu another shot, and I’ve run some form of Linux on all my machines ever since (Canonical has lost my trust, but that’s a story for another day).

When my dad’s aging MacBook stopped receiving software updates, I didn’t hesitate to install Linux to keep him secure and free from Big Tech snoops. My dad isn’t technical. He uses a web browser, LibreOffice, and prints the occasional document.

Yet it took the Linux desktop roughly 24 years, from 1991 to 2015, until it was usable by someone like my father for the most basic tasks.

And despite the significant advantages Linux has to offer software developers and the privacy-conscious, there’s plenty of tasks it’s still ill-equipped for! Advanced video editing, 3D modeling, and gaming, to name just a few.

What does this have to do with the future of a user-friendly Linux smartphone? Everything!

The Linux Phone

Let’s consider that the first pure implementation of Linux on a phone was in 2011 with the inception of Ubuntu Touch. Today, Ubuntu Touch has all the same problems that Ubuntu Desktop had when I tried it back in 2006.

  • It has poor hardware support
  • There are virtually no apps available
  • It’s difficult to install

Ubuntu Touch is simply not suited for daily use yet.

While I eagerly await a world where I can rid myself of Android permanently, we’re just not there. Until then, a degoogled phone is probably the best compromise of privacy and usability we can hope for.

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LineageOS vs GrapheneOS – Which Degoogled ROM is Right for You?

When it comes to choosing LineageOS vs GrapheneOS (or any other degoogled ROM for that matter), confusion abounds and debates can get very heated!

The tl;dr is that it doesn’t matter much from a privacy perspective. Any variant of Android without Google and based on the Android Open Source Project is going to offer unparalleled privacy and security gains over a traditional iPhone or Android smartphone.

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!

Device Support

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.

By contrast, LineageOS supports hundreds of devices.

We would much rather support manufacturers like Motorola and OnePlus who are committed to supporting privacy ROM options by default.

Community

By virtue of its massive popularity, the LineageOS community is also massive! That means if anything goes wrong, bugs are quick to be fixed.

That also means discussion boards about LineageOS are always buzzing. It’s nice to know that there is a large support network of other users just like you should you need to ask questions.

Dangerous App Installs

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.

Age

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.

In Closing

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.

Stay informed, stay free.

The best degoogled smartphone and privacy news, straight to your inbox.

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Take Back Your Privacy

When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, it seemed like a miracle.

Steve Jobs took to the stage, and like Prometheus, delivered to humanity the impossible: The whole of the Internet at your fingertips.

Sure, there were other smartphones and PDAs before the ubiquitous black slab took to the scene, but none could match the power and convenience of the iPhone. Android launched its flagship product not long after, and now everyone the world over has one of these buggers in their pocket.

Smartphones used to feel like a liberating tool. The collective wisdom of humanity was now accessible to everyone, all the time, from anywhere.

Fast-forward to 2021 and that perspective has changed radically. Everyone knows that Big Brother is watching now. Some don’t care. Many do, but believe smartphone surveillance is inescapable.

Apple, Google, and their partners in government and advertising have seemingly created a perfect panopticon.

But you can fight back.

And you don’t have to abandon the modern conveniences of a smartphone to do so!

There are dozens of custom operating systems for smartphones that are designed without Google or Apple surveillance built-in. Your cell phone carrier won’t sell you these devices – in fact, some phone companies dissuade you from doing this altogether. Despite their best efforts, smartphone privacy is still attainable.

These phones are called degoogled phones and offer some distinct advantages over the phone that’s currently in your pocket. Degoogled phones are free from voice recognition snooping, hyperaccurate location data through WiFi and Bluetooth, and even contact tracing.

You can make a degoogled phone if you’re tech savvy. If you’re not, buying one from a degoogled phone store is an excellent option.

It’s time to take back your privacy.

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