I have been using Apple’s iOS as a mobile operating system for years. Since I’ve been dealing with data privacy, I have also been critical with iOS. That’s why I’m using Android again.
Many now think: “… But Daniel, Android is from Google and Google is much worse than Apple in terms of data protection and spying on users”. However, there is Android and then there is the “Android Open Source Project” (AOSP). The latter is the original Android, without Google Play Services and without Google Apps. GrapheneOS goes one step further here.
GrapheneOS takes all Google elements from Android and thus creates a variant of the operating system that is independent of Google. There are other projects like Calyx OS, for example, that take a less harsh path to data protection, but are at least as good.
I opted for GrapheneOS because it is completely without Google, activates the Titan M security chip in the device, the device does not have to be rooted or has to operated rooted, it provides a verified boot and a web installer. So you don’t have to work with the terminal and commands. However, you still have to use caution here, because installing a different operating system will invalidate the device’s warranty.
GrapheneOS comes without a voice assistant, without special apps and authorizations are only granted for the usage time of the apps (can be deactivated), which means that if you don’t use an app, it has no access to sensors, memory and co. The app can’t collect any data this way. GrapheneOS only works on Google Pixel smartphones. In my case, I sold my iPhone 12 and bought the Google Pixel 4a.
As an alternative to the Google Play Store, I use the Aurora Store and F-Droid. F-Droid provides many open source apps and with a little time and the spirit of discovery you can find good to better alternatives to the apps in the Aurora or Play Store at F-Droid. However, this relates to my usage pattern in this case.
I have not had problems using GrapheneOS so far, some apps spit out a message when starting that they need Google Play Services, but these are not supported on the device. Components of certain apps will then not work. But in my case this is only the weather app out of 47 apps and the dependency relates to the rain radar, which I hardly use anyway.
Of course, a Google-free operating system does not prevent apps from tracking you. You have to prevent that as well, in my case with the “No Track” app from the Aurora Store. An open source alternative with extensive settings would be the F-Droid app “Blokada 5”.
Backing up the settings and even entire apps is also very secure with GrapheneOS. You get a key that consists of 12 random words. You have to save this – preferably with a password manager. Then you can choose a storage location. Storing backups on the same device is not a wise decision, so it’s best to choose a USB stick, external hard drive or Nextcloud as the storage location.
GrapheneOS checks for updates multiple times per day. Security patches are made available on the 5th of each month and you can choose between the “stable” and the “beta” channel. Updates can be carried out via the Internet (OTA) or via “sideload” (manual download and manual installation via a PC).
All in all, I don’t miss the iPhone a day. The Pixel 4a, which is around € 500 cheaper, does exactly what it should with GrapheneOS. However, it has to be said that I am not a power user and usually have the smartphone in my pocket and only use it more often on the go.
Updated August 31, 2021: Replaced “activates the T2 security chip” with “activates the Titan M security chip”
Updated August 31, 2021: Replaced “GrapheneOS checks for updates every hour” with “GrapheneOS checks for updates multiple times per day”