LineageOS: Best in Class Android Privacy

Published 2019-10-22
by Ryan Sundberg

Consumer right to privacy has grow to become a mainstream concern over the past decade, gaining press from high profile abuses such as through the Cambridge Analytica scandal, massive Credit Bureau and government data leaks, and omissive testimonies in Congress from the heads of Google and Facebook. If only they were less concerned trying to convince the wise guys in DC to provide them with even more regulatory capture.

In Europe, the GPDR has brought privacy further into the collective conscious, and California is following the lead with its own similar version of the legislation that will have a major impact on the way these companies do business. Or will it? After all, how enforceable or effective are those regulations when the incentives are always going to be aligned to profit off of whatever data they can mine about you?

If you really don't want every waking movement analyzed in perpetuity, there may be little you can do in the future, as just going to a friends' house can get you analyzed on their facial recognition doorbell. But, you sure as heck don't have to make it easy. Researchers for NBC in 2018 found that Android phones were tracking users every step of the day - even when their phone had location services turned off, and mobile data disabled!

Enter LineageOS - an operating system based on the Android Open Source Project (which, thanks to the Free Software Foundation and all of its projects' contributors, Google is legally obligated to keep the source code open for, since Android is derived from "copyleft" licensed code). LineageOS takes the base Android operating system, and strips out everything Google built-in to lock down their half of the mobile phone duopoly. That's right - even Google Play is stripped out of this Android-lite OS.

What this means in practice though is excellent not only for the privacy-conscious user, but it brings a lot of utility back to the phone. You may notice your phone lasts twice or even three times as long without a charge, when all of the background services which your apps were using all day to funnel their analytics up to the cloud have no place on your reinstalled phone and constantly using up your battery. There is an excellent selection of vetted, free and open-source apps on the F-Droid App Catalog, including e-mail apps (I recommend K-9 mail), chat apps such as Telegram, and others like Signal who offer an .apk app download directly from their website. And for your kick of commercial apps, LineageOS works great with the Amazon App Store as well (originally created for their Amazon FireOS tablets).

Some people can't live without Uber or Lyft, but although these apps do require Google Play to install, you can also use Uber through their web-app which is moderately usable (it's no replacement for the regular Uber app though, if you are a heavy user). There are also distributions of LineageOS and other Android Mods that do have support for Google Play Services if you just can't afford to lose access to those apps in the Play Store, if you do your research.

But at least from my perspective, LineageOS is a great way to gain back your personal privacy and majorly reduce your digital footprint, and if that wasn't good enough, just maybe doubling the battery life on your phone will convince you to give it a try.

Before we go, Caveat Emptor: Installing a custom OS on your phone is not for the feint of heart, or without risk. If you can't afford to go a day without your phone, or do a backup of everything important to you, and spend a few hours following a guide for your device, maybe just try it on a spare tablet first!

Check support for your device on LineageOS here.