Free Your Android: or How to Use Android Without Connecting to Google

Misc, News

Free Software FoundationI have always associated smartphones to cloud computing and proprietary editors. Most of the time, the handheld is only one physical device but it just doesn’t really makes sense until it’s connected to some kind of cloud-based services. Or so I thought. Until I stumbled upon the Europe Section of the Free Software Foundation.

What is Free Software Foundation?

As a rationale to this article, it is good to know that the Free Software Foundation has long fought so that software that come with computers (and now smartphones) use non-proprietary software that are compliant with the Free Software philosophy: if we want to simplify things, Free Software are. Without going into the details of the licensing scheme that Free Software Foundation is promoting, one can say that those guys are behind the popularity of alternative operating systems like GNU Linux (against proprietary ones like Microsoft Windows, OS X, …). If you want to get into details of what Free Software Foundation is, I’d advise you to check the official definition from FSF.  What is actually interesting for us in this article is the definition that says:

the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. With these freedoms, the users (both individually and collectively) control the program and what it does for them.

Free Your Android campaign

Now let’s step back a bit. The Europe section of the FSF has launched a campaign named “Free your Android“- the goal is simple: while the Android operating system is almost Free Software, there are still some proprietary software that come loaded with your smartphone. From my understanding, the goal of FSFE is to free from those proprietary software, while having a smartphone that would still be useful (and usable) even if it’s not connected to a Google account (which is another “breach” for keeping your privacy since Google would know more things about what you’re doing with your smartphone).

So if you’re really paranoid about being compliant with the FSF recommendations, you would want to use some HTC smartphones, or Google Nexus series with the Replicant version of Android . If you find this a too limited choice, you can go for the CyanoGenMod version of Android that defines itself as:

CyanoGenMod is an aftermarket firmware for a number of cell phones based on the open-source Android operating system. It offers features not found in the official Android based firmware of vendors of these cell phones.

Conclusion

While I understand the idea behind running all-free software on a smartphone, I just can’t figure out how useful it can be if it’s not connected to some cloud-based system that delivers some services. For example, if I chose not to sync my Android smartphone to a Google account, there are some alternative Apps Market where I can download useful items.

Hint: FSFE are redirecting us to some cloud-based applications where we can sync some of the stuffs in our smartphone. But, this is where I’m a bit lost: why sync it to some other cloud-based solution provider while the initial idea was to get away from one cloud-service provider (Google for instance)? I guess those alternative cloud provider have some more transparent rules for managing your personal data, but even for that, we never know how things may evolve.

Some people would argue that this approach has worked well in the computer industry with successful example of operating systems that actually work. But, do you think the same approach would work for smartphone? That are, by conception, tightly tied to some kind of cloud-providing solutions?. I’m eager to hear your point of view about this.

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