Off the Goolag Applelago! (0) – Introduction

Privacy: detaching identity (fingerprinting) from activities!

The new idea of privacy is not hiding what you normally do (legal) perfectly, but to make it difficult for automation to uniquely identify and match you so your habit doesn’t get observed and stereotyped. For example, I love fried chicken and watermelon, but I don’t want to see advertisements for malt liquor.

Apple’s ecosystem is tightly controlled, so the uniqueness is guaranteed. If you use Apple products, you are totally at the mercy of Apple Inc AND their employees (whom you didn’t hire) honoring their legal, contractual and moral obligations. It’s by design: Apple limits what you can do within their imaginations so they can limit the scope of what kinds of thing that can possibly go wrong. The side effect is customers are giving away their freedoms to authoritarians for convenience and promised protections.

Therefore my exploration of escaping the Goolag Applelago do not consider Apple products. They can turn into Chinese Communist Party dictatorship at a flip of a switch when they’ve became so powerful that they are above law. Given how they bankroll the lobbyists and how close they are to ChiCom/CCP, it’s a more realistic threat than most think.

Operating system: AOSP

I don’t have a Pixel so I cannot try CalyxOS and GrapheneOS. For usability, it’s most practical to have Android-Open Source Projects builds that does not contain proprietary Google apps. Many proprietary Google services are built in stock ROM, so these AOSP builds either remove them or replace them with MicroG (which do not track users) so apps that depends on the proprietary Google Play Services will still run.

So far I’ve tried these OS that supports a wide range of old phones:

I’m least impressed by the performance of /e/. It’s very laggy compared to the rest to the extent it’s close to the Stock ROM. The concept is good that it tries to have a tightly integrated user experience (including Cloud) to replace Google’s ecosystem, but the apps that came out of the box is primitive. “Apps” is a nice package installer that gives a bit more access to common apps that’s a little less than Auora OSS (but easier to find) and a lot more than F-droid. That’s the only good thing I can say about it for now.

NanoDroid came with a lot of well-designed, excellent privacy-respecting open source apps that is eye opening (I’ll discuss it in later posts). They have a few more apps pre-installed than what I wanted, so I went with LineageOS + microG so I can pick-and-choose my apps.

The official LineageOS comes without these Google’s proprietary infrastructure, so either you install proprietary Gapps through TWRP (one of the universal bootloaders to install LineageOS and the like), which defeats DeGoogling, or painfully install microG on top of it. I decided to go with the latter.

The phone works A LOT FASTER (fluid user experience) with LineageOS than the bloated crap that came with Stock ROM.

WARNING: Things to watch out while mucking with Android OS upgrades/changes

Absolutely back up your files (apps, photos, videos, downloads, settings, etc) to external drive or cloud storage first! Do NOT trust any of the doc that your OS might work after an ‘upgrade’. It doesn’t. The AOSP builders did not spend much time thinking of migration issues (these are boring thankless menial work that nobody wants to do it for free, so don’t get your hopes up).

You MUST ALWAYS assume that you’ll have to factory reset your device, which I recently learned the hard way by losing data because I formatted the SD card as internal storage (called adoptable storage) in LineageOS 15.1 then unwittingly deleted the encryption key to the SD card while factory resetting the device because the /data and /system partitions are not in a compatible state with the new 18.1 (or even 16.0)!

Some maintainers are not very fond of adoptable storage so they don’t put much thought into it hoping it’ll go away. Adoptable storage a useful feature but it’s full of traps (fragile) so it’s best to avoid it altogether unless you swear to not upgrade your LineageOS and assume the SD card will live and die with the device.

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