How do I make my phone more private
For the past week, we've been looking at stepping away from Android and iOS. We discovered a secure and private phone os we need to tell you about called CalyxOS. We're going to show you why there's a need for it. What exactly is it, how it's better than standard Android and a complete game-changer?
So the one thing that we need to establish for this to make any sense is that Android, at its core, is open source, meaning that its code is entirely public, and because of that, there are no hidden trackers or spyware. Google made it this way because, back when it started, they had nothing.
Google was behind Apple in the race for a smartphone operating system, so they encouraged companies to adopt Android and develop for it by using the fact that it's completely free and open.
But this changed as Android started to explode in popularity. Google realized,
"Well, hey. Everyone using Android is great, but we're not benefiting from that. As long as Android remains open-source, the code is everyone's. Android users don't belong to us. We want to channel this user base that we've built up and push them towards the closed source Google products that makes money, like the Chrome browser."
-- Probably Someone at Google
As the years have gone on, Google has one by one been swapping the core features of Android for closed sourced versions. The calendar, the music app, the keyboard, the camera - improving them, but then making the improved versions of these apps closed source instead of open. They've made it such that for you to use YouTube, Gmail maps, or even an app that has google services in its code like uber, you have to consent to hand your data to Google Play services whose code base inner workings are hidden.
A huge portion of the data in circulation isn’t shared willingly—it’s collected surreptitiously and with impunity.
-- Bennett Cyphers, EFF staff technologist
We don't know exactly what data is being collected. We know that data is being collected. The Average android phone connects to google servers once every 4.5 minutes to send them info about you. Some of it for your benefit to allow your apps to work, but some of it probably not.
Remember that first and foremost, Google is an advertising company. So there's the unmistakable implication that at least some of this data will be used to squeeze more money out of users by laser targeting them with just-the-right ads at just the right time. But there are more significant implications because we know that this data is not always kept within Google.
There is no shortage of governments looking to control or censor their population worldwide, and Google has been shown to have readily shared user data with those governments.
There have even been cases where law enforcement took innocent people to court because Google Maps showed them to be at a crime scene. Who obtained that data? Did Google give it to them?
The point is that 99% of Android phones that you can buy off the shelf right now tack us in ways that we don't fully know, which is why CalyxOS exists.
But what is CalyxOS? If you remove all those extras from Google and your service providers, Android is open source at its core. CalyxOS uses that core, but instead of having Google Play services as the layer that sits on top of that, it uses something Called microG, which you could think of as a bit like a fake id for your phone.
microG creates a random anonymous, unique identifier that allows our phone to be a certified google device, but Google can't trace your activity back to you. So we can use google maps anonymously. We can watch youtube videos. We can even download apps without needing to sign into a single account!
Using this CalyxOS, you get not one but two app stores. First, F-Droid provides you with 100% open source applications whose code is entirely public. Consequently, by its very nature, it cannot steal your data.
On top of F-Droid, you also have the super interesting Aurora store. It's the like the Play Store, except when you download an app through it. Instead of going directly to google and requesting that app, it's aurora who goes to google and gets that app for you. So the only info about you that Google sees is a random email address that the aurora store creates for you.
The only thing it can't do right now is: let you pay for apps. I think they're working on that, but what's cool is that, unlike the play store, aurora tells you for every single app how many and which trackers it comes with you're starting to get the idea. Calyx has most of the main perks of Android, but we've barely touched on this, yet you will not believe the privacy features.
Calyx has a built-in firewall that allows you to restrict what level of internet access that you want each of your apps to have, let's say, for example, that we want to use the closed source Google Pixel Camera app, because really the quality of google's open-source, android camera kind of sucks. But at the same time, I'm worried about the faces of my friends and family potentially being stored on a server somewhere. So we can still download the app and then use the firewall to cut off its communications with google fun fact doing.
CalyxOS also removes ads and extends your battery life because you're limiting the number of processes in the background.
We've got the same phone here, Pixel 2xl and this one's running Android, and we're going to test the battery side by side. So this won't be a conclusive experiment. However, we expect that CalyxOS will last 5 to 10 percent longer, which is still significant, plus it gives you supreme control over App permissions, including visualization of how many times each permission of your phone's accessed.
CalyxOS is filled with such thoughtful features. For example, on CalyxOS, when you go into the dialer and call someone by default, instead of using a regular voice call that can be snooped on, it will aim to do a Signal call with them which is end-to-end encrypted.
They've managed to swap every data-gathering app for a clean alternative that doesn't feel like a compromise.
They swapped Google Chrome for Chromium, which is Chrome, but without all the proprietary extras.
Google Maps is gone and in its place we have OpenStreet Maps.
By default, even Google Drive is gone, and instead, in its place, you have Seed Vault, which allows you to backup all your files to a local usb drive. On top of that, you have the excellent open-source Nextcloud giving you the option of having your own private Google Drive alternative.
But this whole privacy thing it's about more than just privacy from google. It's also just privacy from everyone else. For example, if you go into the dialer, you have a list of helplines like the number for domestic abuse in your region or Childline and Suicide Hotlines. This software will know that when you dial those numbers, not save them in your call log if someone in your own home tries to pry.
They've even got a panic button to protect your data if you're about to be forced to share your phone.
So if we hold down my power button, we can see emergency services and the option to shut down as usual, but this third option can configure that button to do pretty much wherever we want to. For example, I can make it hide my private messages. I can make it delete certain apps. I can even make it factory reset my phone if we get into a sticky situation.
We spent the last week trying to fault this os, but I'm struggling to find any real problems.
Like yes, the default calyx user interface is kind of grim, but it's got enough. Customization controls that you can pretty much recreate the look of any other company's home screen. Yes, there are some Google features that you can't use on this phone without logging into your google account, even when you have micro g.
For example, if we want to plot a route on google maps, we can do that anonymously. But if we then want to quickly select from our past routes, we will have to log in because google needs to know which user we are, but this is the appeal of an operating system like this.
CalyxOS once is not just going to immediately make you disappear off the grid like you never existed, but it will give you that control back. With CalyxOS, you can pick the level of privacy you want based on the features you need.
As opposed to just defaulting to sharing everything, this all seems a bit too good to be true, and so at this point, we started wondering who made this: why isn't everyone using calyx instead of Android, and should google be worried about this? After all, it's encouraging people to use Google services without google getting the full benefit from that. Well, to find out, we jumped on a call with this guy Nicholas Merrill, the founder of the project and kind of a badass. He used to run an internet service provider, but the FBI knocked at his door one day.
They said we want to see the data of some of your customers, but he didn't hand it to them and instead of saying no, he took them to court and won. He argued that privacy is a fundamental human right. And in the same way that no one should be allowed to break into your home and read your diary, no one should be allowed to read your private online data.
So that moment was kind of the trigger as to why he started the CalyxOS institute, which is this not-for-profit company that he's saying has one goal to bring privacy to as many people as possible?
It sounds like an incredibly noble mission, so why has no one heard of this? We think the fundamental barrier here is that, yes, this CalyxOS institute has a membership program that does bring in some income. Still, because this entire CalyxOS is open-source, it is not a sustainable business model.
Right now, the team behind CalyxOS is just 11 people. The format of their work makes it hard for their small company to scale up with additional features for advertising campaigns or compatibility with all phones right now. CalyxOS only works on Google Pixel devices; other companies have not been able to replicate what they're doing quite yet because there's no incentive for them do so if most people are still unaware of how much data these firms collect about you in order to target ads more accurately than ever before!
In the age of social media and advertising, Google has a lot on people's privacy - but even though there is an increasing population who goes to great lengths to protect it, for most people lack of incentive means they're not going through with it.
Each day, billions of people willingly give away their data in exchange for convenience. However, as this article points out privacy laws are more often than not broken and companies with access to our personal information can be hacked which results in the theft or misuse of that same info!
Privacy matters now matter more than ever before because we may never know who might have accessed what when they hack into a company's database containing private user data.
There is one option that would be a game-changer. The CalyxOS are pushing to partner with an OEM, a company like Xiaomi or One+, who makes phone hardware and who'd be willing to pre-install CalyxOS instead of Android. So it's possible.
Consider sharing post with someone who is more private conscious. We home will be the norm one day.