You can’t. Thanks for stopping by.
No, seriously, there’s nothing you can do to make your smart phone entirely private. But there are ways to limit the leak. Here’s how…
Steps to making a more private phone
To begin, you can turn off your location and Bluetooth (as nearby Bluetooth devices that are connected to location services can expose your device location). This is a good start, but it doesn’t stop the underlying operating system from leaking private information at will. Your device is constantly searching for wifi to connect to, which is called “wifi scanning”. What this does is provide you with all the available wifi networks you can connect to. Oh and also provides that information directly to Google or Apple depending on your affiliation. What that means is that even if you turn off your location, Google or anyone with access can look up the location of those wireless networks and pinpoint your location (crc.id.au: “Tracking people via WiFi”).
So, what if you turn off your wifi? Then of course if you have a sim card in your device (which is kind of the point of a phone), your network provider can ping your location from cell phone towers and get your approximate location that way. To be really private, the only way is to ditch your phone completely, and go live in the woods. As nice an escape as that might be for some, I’m not really capable of that, and honestly, I really like to have access to the internet.
De-Googling your phone
This isn’t perfect, you’re still going to be able to be tracked by your network carrier while you have a sim card in your device, and connecting to a wireless network that has devices with google on them can expose you, but it’s the best compromise I have found so far. Google will no longer get constant updates on your behaviour throughout the day, and your performance and battery life will likely be improved. Not available for IOS.
A De-Googled phone is essentially a bare-bones version of an Android phone. As Android is open source, anyone can download the base code, make whatever changes they want to it, then release it as their own. There are reputable development teams that we recommend and use at Pyre Phone, that have taken the base code of Android and left out all of the spyware that Google puts into their version. You still get all of the latest security patches and features, just minus Google Services and Apps.
How do I de-Google my phone?
If you have an android phone, you can often install (or “flash”) what they call a “custom ROM” onto the device. These are community variations of the core Android Open Source Project.
Step 1. Backup Your Data
When you install a custom ROM onto a phone, you wipe all data on the device, so make sure you save all your contacts, messages, dog photos, and memes. You also run the risk of “bricking” your phone when you try this, meaning it locks up and is an expensive paperweight. Just be careful to follow the instructions properly.
Step 2. Unlock The Bootloader
Next, you need to check whether your phone can unlock its bootloader, and that there are supported ROMs available. This should be a fairly quick web search for your device, and I would be wary of anything that asks for money or tells you to download anything unless it’s coming from a trusted source. A great resource for research is the XDA Developers Forums, just keep in mind that like any online forum, you may need to do some digging to find good information.
If you can’t unlock your bootloader, get a phone that can be unlocked. At the moment I like using Samsung Galaxy S8 and S9 phones and Google Pixels (love the irony, but also very secure and private once Google is removed). If you want to save yourself the hassle, you can buy a De-Googled phone from us.
Step 3. Pick a De-Googled ROM
Once you have a phone that allows you to unlock the bootloader, it’s time to decide on the ROM that you want. There are many choices depending on your taste, but what you’re looking for is one without any Google services on it. This eliminates many of your choices, as many of the custom ROMs available will come with Google services pre-installed. Pyre Phone uses GrapheneOS, Calyx OS and /e/ OS, but Lineage OS is a fine option as well.Check out the detailed comparison between our favourite De-googled Phones
Step 4. Follow The Instructions
Find one you like the look of, and follow the instructions CAREFULLY on the website to install it on your phone. Lineage supports the most amount of devices, followed by /e/. Lineage has the option of installing Google services… if you still want them. /e/ is continuing support for S8 and S9 phones where Lineage has stopped for now. Graphene and Calyx will only work on Pixel devices, and oddly for Calyx, the Xiaomi Mi A2. I’ve had success with all of these options, and currently use Graphene.
The Downsides of De-Googling a phone
Of course, there’s a lot of convenience that comes with Google and Apple services that you may miss out on, Maps comes to mind, but Magic Earth and Open Street Maps are good alternatives. Unless your ROM comes with Micro G (like /e/ and Calyx), push notifications may not work properly, meaning you may have to check your apps and emails manually. Certain kinds of notifications can get around this though. Check out our app recommendations for De-Googled phones here
If you’ve gotten this far, give it a go; I’ve been using Graphene for a while now and it’s great, I feel much more at ease regarding my privacy, I’ve got most of the apps I would use normally, and it feels much more like my phone is serving me than the other way around. Just don’t install anything Google-related, and you won’t be feeding the beast.
If you would rather someone else handle this for you, we offer flashing services (the new-mobile-OS kind…).