How to de-Google your Android phone

First, download a ROM from this Russian message board. It’s okay! You can totally verify the GPG signature. Allow yourself 30 minutes to remember how GPG works, then verify that forum poster LeetAndrej420 has indeed signed the file.

Next, root your Android phone. You will need to hold the volume-up and power buttons for ten seconds, then unplug from USB, then reboot a few times after you mess it up, then give up and download the Android dev tools.

After you figure out the Android adb and fastboot commands, you should see a friendly UI with green Courier text on a black background. Press the button that says, “I void my warranty and completely exonerate the OEM in the likely event that I am actually pwning myself by installing random software from the internet onto a tracking device I carry in my pocket every day.” But it’s okay. You trust Andrej, right?

Next you will need to install the “recovery” tool. Despite the name, this is actually the best way to brick your device. Luckily it is incredibly feature-rich, boasting 12 buttons on the home screen, including an “Advanced” button containing more buttons. These buttons will invite you to do things like “clear the Dalvik/ART cache,” which you totally know what that means.

When you download the recovery tool, make sure you get the right version for your phone! Of course, it’s not named after your phone’s brand name, but rather a cheeky internal name chosen by the OEM, like “bacon”, “cheeseburger”, or “mahimahi”. The professionalism on display from all parties should fill you with confidence.

You will download the recovery tool from a site called SickWarez.biz. Use GPG to ensure that it’s signed by Andrej.

Once downloaded, go into recovery mode and install the ROM, being careful to press the one correct button out of 12, like a game of Minesweeper that will brick your phone if you lose. This will also factory-reset your device, which is fine because all your photos and contacts are backed up to your Google account… ah, right. You’ll want to do something about that.

Assuming you have successfully installed the ROM without turning your phone into a $700 doorstop, you can now install apps. Thankfully there is F-Droid, which hosts all your favorite open-source apps. Wait, your favorite apps aren’t open-source? Well, at least it has Signal. Wait, it doesn’t have Signal?

Once you’ve installed the Yalp Store, which sideloads apps from Google Play in a way that may or may not be totally illegal and will get blocked by Google once they read this blog post and realize that it exists, you can now download some actually useful apps.

Thankfully, though, your personal data will be safe and secure from third-party developers, because these apps will not work. Be prepared for error messages like, “Please install Google Maps,” “Google Play Services required,” or “What kind of sicko has a Google phone without Google? What is wrong with you?”

After all this ceremony, you can now relax and enjoy your Google-free Android device. Note, though, that weather widgets, GPS, push notifications, and the majority of Android apps you rely on will not work. That said, there are some great note-taking apps! Plus SMS will still work. Good old SMS.

So now that you’ve successfully turned your $700 Android device into a glorified $30 Nokia flip phone, which may or may not be siphoning your passwords to a Ukrainian teenager, you can finally have a Google-free smartphone experience. Or you could just buy an iPhone.

6 responses to this post.

  1. “First, download a ROM from this Russian message board.”

    State-of-the-art in 2012. Today, use https://wiki.lineageos.org/ (or https://download.lineage.microg.org/ if you are crafty.)

    “Or you could just buy an iPhone.”

    So long as your use case for the device matches that of the Ivory Tower designers in Cupertino, sure.

    Of course, I listen to podcasts while traveling faster than walking speed or while doing physical labor, so that rules out any iPhone after the headphone jack was removed.

    It’ll always take more work to repurpose a device from its original design. So start with a non-googled android phone and avoid the hassle.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Dror on June 14, 2019 at 10:52 AM

    Is Andrej Russian or Ukrainian? Cause he’ll hate you for calling him the other way around, you know ;-)

    Reply

  3. Posted by Max Chaos on October 17, 2020 at 4:37 AM

    This article whose written by person that did not have de googled phone, and have no understanding of FOSS (Free Open Source Software).
    Article Totaly missing a point of having FOSS device.
    Just half of points have some truth to it, and are wores case scenario and can be easyly omitted by doing it in proper and safe way.
    And above all advertising 100% LOCKED Proparitory system runing onley on moste expensive devices as a alternative to FOSS systems that can run on £50 ($70) devices its just ludicrous.
    (Written from 100% degogled phone that give me my freedom back)

    Reply

    • To be clear, your proposal is to replace the first step with “Buy a new android phone from a vendor committed to open source” like PinePhone.

      Nothing against PinePhone, and of all replacement phones theirs are relatively cheap, but not everybody (especially these days) can afford to plunk down the money just to get free of Google.

      A more universal solution is antitrust regulation preventing giant advertising companies from taking advantage of their mobile phone OS monopolies to take away user choice. We’ll never see it in the US, but requiring all phones sold in the country to have a modular, open-source OS where the user can choose whether or not to add closed-source adware frameworks would be a start.

      Reply

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