Tutorial: Android without Google

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sarge816
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Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by sarge816 » Sat May 05, 2018 10:03 am

**DISCLAIMER: Use this tutorial at your own risk, some of these procedures may brick or otherwise render inoperable your device. Please know what you are doing before attempting any of this**

I mentioned briefly in the "Who doesn't trust Facebook" thread that I had "de-Googled" my android phone and then was asked by PM if maybe I could post how I did it. I am no expert programmer and everything here was researched by others and posted in various forums and tech blogs. But here is a brief tutorial on the basics of what you'll need if you'd like to try this out. I will make it very general because many of the specific things (like recovery, rooting, etc.) may be different for each device. Some phones might not be eligible for this depending on how they are locked down. Most of you already know that Android is based off of Linux and many of the principles are the same, including open source apps and software. The idea behind this endeavor is to make the phone as close to an Android Open Source Project (AOSP) device as possible, taking control and using it how YOU want rather than it being locked down, loaded with non-removable Google Apps and other carrier specific bloatware that tracks your every move, targets you for advertising, gathers all your private info into a database and then is sold to third parties.

For starters, if you are looking to purchase a new phone, I highly recommend you research devices that are "carrier unlocked." This will allow you to change service to any of the wireless providers including the various Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) providers (like Cricket, Red Pocket, etc.) with just a SIM card switch. Second, research and make sure the phone you want or already have can be "bootloader unlocked" and rooted. This will allow you take control of your device as administrator, much like having "sudo" powers in Linux. Manufacturers often cater to the big wireless providers and their desire to lock down the phones, loading carrier specific bloatware, adware and spyware that cannot normally be uninstalled. Unlocking and rooting your phone will allow you to take full control of your device and even load completely different ROMs. Think of a ROM the same way as a specific LInux distro, but for your phone. Your phone is locked by the manufacturer and wireless provider into whatever they give you and then only allow you to upgrade on their schedule (if ever). Loading alternative ROMs is beyond the scope of this tutorial so I'll concentrate on just using the stock ROM that is already loaded. Although I've gone the ROM replacement route on other devices, I decided to use my stock Nougat 7.0 on my Moto G4 and just debloat and de-Google.

XDA-Developers - This is the site where you can research specific phones for eligibility for bootloader unlocking and rooting, as available. I will go through the steps below.

1) Research (on XDA or other) how to unlock the bootloader and root your phone. You may need to attach the phone via USB to a computer and use specific PC tools to accomplish this (like ADB). Or, you might be able just to go to the manufacturer website and get an unlock code for the bootloader. Each phone will be different and some may not be eligible for unlock and root. Once SuperSu (or whatever your phone used) is installed, download and install Root Checker from the Playstore (or wherever) and make sure you have root.

2) Load whichever custom recovery works for your specific phone. Recovery allows you to enter phone diagnostics before the ROM boots where you can flash new ROMs and zip files or recover from failures. Here is a guide for installing TWRP, which is what my Moto G4 used: https://www.xda-developers.com/how-to-install-twrp/

3) Enter your custom recovery and BACKUP your current ROM to your SDCARD. This way you can RESTORE the original phone configuration if you bork things. At this point, you could just find a custom AOSP based ROM (android operating system, i.e. Nougat, Oreo, etc.) and replace your current ROM by flashing it in recovery. This could theoretically take care of the entire project as there are literally dozens of custom ROMs available that have no Gapps and are completely AOSP based. As mentioned previously, this is beyond the scope of this tutorial but is easily researched for your device on XDA-Developers.

4) Download and purchase Titanium Backup app. This app is central in your endeavor to uninstall Google apps and other bloatware from your phone that normally cannot be removed. It is cheap and completely necessary.

At this point, you'll have to decide how far you want to go with this on your stock ROM. For instance, you could choose to "Freeze" everything you don't want running using Titanium Backup. This way you could have things like Google Playstore frozen and then unfreeze when you want to update apps. Or, you could BACKUP each item and then UNINSTALL. The latter is what I did, uninstalling all Google apps, Google Play Services, Google Framework, Google Playstore, etc. If you choose to truly remove Google, be careful! There are some apps that absolutely refuse to operate without Play Services running (including some you may have paid for on Playstore) and you'll have to find alternatives. Almost all Gapps will refuse to run after you freeze or uninstall playservices and framework, including things like the Google Keyboard and Launcher (meaning a blank screen), so make sure you load alternative apps FIRST. This brings us to:

5) Alternative app stores. There are other app stores out there, including Amazon & Fdroid. Depending on how you feel about Amazon, you may want to go completely open source, which means you'll need to use Fdroid to find all of your alternative apps to replace the Gapps you uninstalled. Some of the apps I installed from Fdroid include:
Adaway, Camera Roll (photo/video manager), Simple Contacts, Lightning (web browser, it's great), MuPDF viewer, Simple Music Player, QKSMS (texting), SkyTube (open source Youtube), AnySoftKeyboard, ZANavi (map/navigation), etc.
Trebuchet is the launcher I used which is a direct port from Cyanogen.

Well, that turned out to be much longer than I anticipated and it is just a rough draft of what you'll need to do. Each device will be different and you'll need to fill in the blanks for whatever yours requires but I think it gives an overview of the process. One of the big advantages for me on my device was increasing battery life by nearly double by uninstalling all the crap churning and tracking me in the background. Be careful and have fun in your endeavor to live a Google-free life.

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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by jimallyn » Sat May 05, 2018 5:46 pm

Thanks very much for this tutorial, and I look forward to de-Googling my Android phone! I suspect many other forums members will find this useful.
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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by Portreve » Sun May 06, 2018 7:25 am

Thank you for this tutorial.

My concern is that this is not, fundamentally, a particularly clean approach to having a libre mobile environment. One has to, in essence, work around what is intended by the platform creator to be a part of the platform.

I need the functionality I have on my phone. Glitches in that functionality, gaps in it, stability issues, etc., are deal breakers. In essence, I drive for a living. Scheduling, maps and driving, and office productivity all must be present and completely integrated and seamless. I'm concerned that replacing all of Google's bits with different stuff from a bunch of different sources whose primary goals may or may not include perfect interoperability would cause issues.

To be honest, I've tried using other apps for some of these tasks, for example WAZE for navigation, and it feels like all I'm doing is fighting with them.

Now, insofar as containing Google and walking away from them is concerned, I think a much better approach, at least in principle, is to go the way of Purism's upcoming PureOS-based, 100% libre hardware phone. Obviously, it's not out yet, and there's no way to know how well or how robustly it will compete with Google's platform once it does come out. However, at least it will be a legit GNU+Linux-based platform, which means potentially any program written for that can run on the phone.

Would it not make more sense for the GNU+Linux community to get behind that platform?
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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by Moem » Sun May 06, 2018 7:30 am

Portreve wrote:
Sun May 06, 2018 7:25 am
Would it not make more sense for the GNU+Linux community to get behind that platform?
In some ways, it would... but I have no idea what that would look like.
Also: many of us may not care all that much, while others do, but can't afford to pay what a Purism phone will cost.
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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by smurphos » Sun May 06, 2018 8:37 am

Portreve wrote:
Sun May 06, 2018 7:25 am
for example WAZE for navigation, and it feels like all I'm doing is fighting with them.

Now, insofar as containing Google and walking away from them is concerned, I think a much better approach, at least in principle, is to go the way of Purism's upcoming PureOS-based, 100% libre hardware phone. Obviously, it's not out yet, and there's no way to know how well or how robustly it will compete with Google's platform once it does come out. However, at least it will be a legit GNU+Linux-based platform, which means potentially any program written for that can run on the phone.

Would it not make more sense for the GNU+Linux community to get behind that platform?
WAZE is owned by Google.... :wink:

I think I've read somewhere (but can't find the link now) that there are something like 8 billion Android devices in the wild (i.e. connect with Google Services at least once a week). That's an awful lot of hardware to consign to the dump if there was a mass movement towards FOSS amongst users and the only choice was Purism's unknown offering.

Both the approaches outlined in this tutorial are good - either to debloat a stock 'ROM' or install a third party AOSP based ROM - often also the only way to get OS updates for older (and sometimes not so old) devices.

Google have actually helped considerably with the recently enforced requirement that new Google certified devices must be compatible with Project Treble. Amongst the many advantages of treble, one is that it is much easier for independent dev teams to distribute device agnostic google service free AOSP 'ROMS' and users who wish to fill in the gaps with FOSS software can use F-Droid for their appstore. Pretty much the same thing as installing a Linux distro on a 'made for Windows' PC.

Will you get as polished and seamless user experience as you would using Google's services - no - but then again new Linux users often have to make some compromises and undertake relearning when migrating from proprietary platforms to GNU/Linux platforms.

For maps OSMAND is the primary FOSS alternative to Google maps. https://f-droid.org/en/packages/net.osmand.plus/. It's pretty good - I used to use it several years ago as it offered good offline navigation before Google maps improved their offline navigation functionality. It's also available on the playstore if you want to give it a spin.

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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by sarge816 » Sun May 06, 2018 9:17 am

Portreve wrote:
Sun May 06, 2018 7:25 am
Thank you for this tutorial.

My concern is that this is not, fundamentally, a particularly clean approach to having a libre mobile environment. One has to, in essence, work around what is intended by the platform creator to be a part of the platform.

I need the functionality I have on my phone. Glitches in that functionality, gaps in it, stability issues, etc., are deal breakers.
You guys are welcome, I have been a Linux noob here a long time and was very happy to be able to contribute something back. And I agree, this approach has compromises but it does allow the end-user to take back control of their device and pick and choose what they want to keep installed on it. Although Google is a partner in the development of Android, most ROMs work brilliantly after all their sludge is removed. My Moto G4 now uses less memory, is far more responsive and the battery can last for days depending on my usage. I've had similar results on other devices.

As far as functionality, I admit having to keep several paid for, proprietary apps installed because I could not find suitable open-source replacements. One of these was TinyCam for our home security cameras and I am required to have Outlook installed for work (ugh). I also refuse to live without my Market Watch and Discord, although I could probably just use the browser for many of these apps. My main goal was to completely rid myself of Google collecting all my data and I wanted to eliminate as much as possible them profiting by selling my personal information. Others may not have the same concerns but they might still find some of this information useful for taking back their phones.

Something else I didn't mention in the limited scope of that tutorial was the root-only Xposed framework, which allows huge customization and functionality adjustments along with hundreds of module programs. For example, some of my proprietary apps kept complaining that they needed Play Services running but I found an Xposed module that eliminated this nag message and now they run perfectly.

There is also a very useful app XDA Labs that catalogs all the on-site apk files from the XDA-Developers forums and allows you to search and install directly. Many developers that eventually put their apps on Playstore use XDA forums as their initial distribution platform and for feedback and often post direct download links to the apk files. Pretty cool stuff. One of the apps on XDA is called "Yalp Store," which allows you to direct download and update apps from the Playstore, even with no Google Play Services or anything else Google installed on your phone.

Bottom line for me is that although there are some compromises to work around, in the end I love the idea of being Google free and my phone is very stable, much faster with better battery life and under my control.

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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by Portreve » Sun May 06, 2018 8:48 pm

Moem wrote:
Sun May 06, 2018 7:30 am
In some ways, it would... but I have no idea what that would look like.
Also: many of us may not care all that much, while others do, but can't afford to pay what a Purism phone will cost.
I know there are plenty of people out there who don't look beyond, say $50 - $200 (€42 - €167) Android phones. The problem with the Android ecosystem thus far is that phones of that price range are generally pretty basic and pretty crap, either because of hardware or because of the supported version of Android, and generally both. Often, these phones enjoy relatively limited support, and even if the AOSP community manages to find a way to root them and produce supporting ROMs, they generally lack the oomph to benefit all that much.

I find it very frustrating because, given Google's licensing practices have led to a horrific problem with fragmentation, these devices often are extremely out of date with respect to security. Usually the segment of the population buying these devices neither knows nor cares much about technology. They just want a smart phone because that's the new norm for society.
smurphos wrote:
Sun May 06, 2018 8:37 am
WAZE is owned by Google.... :wink:
I'm guessing they didn't actually create the thing (though maybe I'm wrong?) but bought it for some reason. Anyhow, I've tried a few different release versions of it, and while I know others who like it, I think it's pretty much crap. I've never once gotten it to work quite right, and generally I feel like I'm fighting with it just to do the things I'm already doing very cleanly and elegantly with Google Maps/Navigation.
I think I've read somewhere (but can't find the link now) that there are something like 8 billion Android devices in the wild (i.e. connect with Google Services at least once a week). That's an awful lot of hardware to consign to the dump if there was a mass movement towards FOSS amongst users and the only choice was Purism's unknown offering.

Both the approaches outlined in this tutorial are good - either to debloat a stock 'ROM' or install a third party AOSP based ROM - often also the only way to get OS updates for older (and sometimes not so old) devices.

Google have actually helped considerably with the recently enforced requirement that new Google certified devices must be compatible with Project Treble. Amongst the many advantages of treble, one is that it is much easier for independent dev teams to distribute device agnostic google service free AOSP 'ROMS' and users who wish to fill in the gaps with FOSS software can use F-Droid for their appstore. Pretty much the same thing as installing a Linux distro on a 'made for Windows' PC.
Oh, I agree with you, but given the rate of obsolescence we see just within the Android platform, I don't think it makes any difference at all, apart from trying to convince people to switch to a different OS. In that, there's no difference between Android -> PureOS and Windows -> GNU+Linux. You can tell people how much better, both legitimately and demonstrably, another OS is, but unless they actually care, your words mean nothing and your effort is wasted.
Will you get as polished and seamless user experience as you would using Google's services - no - but then again new Linux users often have to make some compromises and undertake relearning when migrating from proprietary platforms to GNU/Linux platforms.
Well, while I'm not actually interested in nor trying to de-Googleify my phone, I can tell you for a fact that the two best ROMs I've seen thus far out there in recent times, especially where getting Android 8.1 to work on non-8.1-supported devices is concerned, are LineageOS and Dirty Unicorns. I ran DU for a few weeks, but LineageOS seems to work better. Also, in looking at the options on the GAPPS site, I've also found that the "Aroma" package is wonderful. It's the biggest, but it comes with a graphical installer that lets you pick every single option you want to install, instead of being a all-or-nothing sub-total proposition like the Full, Mini, Nano, Pico, etc. choices are.

I'm running LineageOS on a Nexus 6, and to all practical purposes, I might just as well be running a factory image. It's solid, stable, no difference in performance between this and running the latest 7.x stock ROM, and I'm not missing any functionality.
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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by Moem » Mon May 07, 2018 3:48 am

Portreve wrote:
Sun May 06, 2018 8:48 pm
I'm running LineageOS on a Nexus 6, and to all practical purposes, I might just as well be running a factory image. It's solid, stable, no difference in performance between this and running the latest 7.x stock ROM, and I'm not missing any functionality.
Interesting, thanks! I might want to try such an endeavour one day.
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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by mediclaser » Tue May 08, 2018 2:30 pm

Reminds me of a saying that goes like this:
"Can it be done - is not the question. The question is - is it worth doing it" :wink:

If your current phone is not bootloader unlockable and you're not willing to buy a new phone which can be unlocked, then you cannot proceed any further.

Unlike in Linux where you have *hundreds* of distros to choose from, you have very little choice of custom ROMs in Android. Custom ROMs are brand/model/variant/country specific. You would be so lucky to have 3 or more ROMs to choose for your phone (usually popular models). Your ROM choice is typically the one with the least problems or issues you're willing to live with (like camera not working properly, bad sound quality, poor signal strength, etc.).

By the time you get to the point where you have removed Google from your phone, you would have removed a lot of functionalities and conveniences your smart phone was designed to provide you.

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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by AZgl1500 » Tue May 08, 2018 2:51 pm

My phone is a Samsung Note 4 and it is rooted on Android 4.4.4

even so, I use Google Apps a lot, three is nothing else that even comes close to what they do for me.

I have never had a problem with Google, I have all of the "nervous options" turned off,
and I happen to like that I can switch PCs and my previous search history is still active.

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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by sarge816 » Tue May 08, 2018 7:57 pm

I think it is definitely a personal choice, sometimes dictated by needs beyond the personal. Like Portreve, who drives for a living and needs the functionality of Google Maps. Or others who need a certain functionality of a certain Gapp. (I am no fan of Microsoft, but I'm required to have Outlook app installed on my phone for my job (much to my chagrin). The whole point of the exercise is about having choice. Maybe you want to keep maps but feel like uninstalling the rest of the bloatware churning in the background. Or, maybe you need Google Calendar for work but want to uninstall all the other Gapps that go unused to conserve storage. I posted the tutorial as a quick and dirty guide for those who might find the idea interesting and who like projects but who may not necessarily be in love with Google. And I am fortunate in my meager needs I suppose, as I've uninstalled everything Google and have lost zero functionality although I have kept several proprietary apps. I tried to go as FOSS as possible but alas, I am weak.

As far as turning off "nervous options," there is absolutely no way to keep Google from tracking you & pinging Google servers with all your info if you have their services and apps installed, regardless of settings. Just an example:

https://qz.com/1131515/google-collects- ... -disabled/

Tracking users, collecting their personal data and selling it to third parties for advertising is Google's business model, after all. Everything they provide "for free" is designed for this very purpose. The old saying "there is no such thing as a free lunch" comes to mind. Some are okay trading all that for the convenience provided by Gapps and I've got no heartburn about that.

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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by smurphos » Wed May 09, 2018 12:36 am

Interesting recent blog post from a RedHat developer on degoogling an old Nexus 4 and replacing google services..... https://piware.de/post/2018-05-01-android-degoogle/

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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by absque fenestris » Wed May 09, 2018 1:26 am

Anything you can say against Google: I have disabled all Google and Sony activities in my Sony smartphone (they call it "pause").
I've been using it for three years, and I don't have any commercials or anything. All synchronizations are disabled.

For e-mails I use K-9, also encrypted.
Social contacts: Signal - encrypted if possible.

F-Droid and also Google Play offers possibilities for data-saving software - I like Mr Tibor Kaputa's things: minimalist programs - limited to the essentials.
A competitor to Google Maps: HERE WeGo
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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by sarge816 » Wed May 09, 2018 2:10 pm

smurphos wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 12:36 am
Interesting recent blog post from a RedHat developer on degoogling an old Nexus 4 and replacing google services..... https://piware.de/post/2018-05-01-android-degoogle/
That's the spirit! :)

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Re: Tutorial: Android without Google

Post by AZgl1500 » Wed May 09, 2018 4:44 pm

sarge816 wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 2:10 pm
smurphos wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 12:36 am
Interesting recent blog post from a RedHat developer on degoogling an old Nexus 4 and replacing google services..... https://piware.de/post/2018-05-01-android-degoogle/
That's the spirit! :)
I followed that blog and installed F-Droid and then Fennec, from there went to Facebook and it runs faster, way faster then the FB app on Android.

Then went to my m/c forum and it is way faster than the apps written to work with my forum. Impressed.

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