5 Effective ways to stay Anonymous on Android

We reach for our phones the moment we wake up, and it’s often the last thing we look at before we go to bed. And in between of all that, we use it for several different things, whether to call or text someone, browse the web, or for remembering our sensitive passwords stored on our phone. But hardly did we know that the smartphones we own are also used by somebody else.

Governments, telephone companies, and many 3rd party ad- firms glean all sorts of your private data, often with little or no consent or knowledge from you. And with an Android phone in hand, where all calls and messages are tapped by your cellular operator, location and personal data collected by various Google services, it’s the most vulnerable device out there to attain privacy ever.

So should we stop using Android, altogether? Absolutely not!

Thankfully, there are certain steps which when implemented can protect your private information, without getting in reach of any services or companies out there.

Note: You can never be 100 percent private, but there are some of the best industry standards to stay anonymous on Android. So without any further due, let us know what are those things that can track you and how to disable them individually.

Related Article: 12 Effective Ways to Stay Anonymous on the Internet

reasons-to-use-vpn-anonymous

How to be Anonymous on Android

Step 1: Boycotting Google forever!

No doubt, Google has provided us with a vast variety of useful apps for free. But what comes free is actually not free. Google has explicitly said in its Privacy Policy that it logs your “phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information, types of calls” and “IP addresses” too.

Google collecting Android device Information

So, we need to avoid signing in to Google at first boot itself. Now if you’ve already signed in then you need to first encrypt your phone and then format it, as doing so will void the chances of data recovery. However, if you’re much into privacy and have a rooted Android smartphone, then it’s better to flash any dedicated privacy-friendly custom ROMs like LineageOS or OmniROM which is completely open source. By doing so you can skip flashing GApps which already comes preinstalled in AOSP ROMs. Furthermore, you can get more information on Why should you prefer using a custom ROM over official AOSP ROM.

Of Course, by doing so you’ll have to sacrifice on some things (like searching apps on Google Play, navigating through Google Maps). But if that’s the price you are willing to pay to protect your privacy at max, then we’ve got some best replacement to these apps in the article below.  

Tip: You might actually be surprised by these links on how much data Google actually has on you:

Google Ads profile Search history Location-history
YouTube watch history YouTube queries Connected list of devices
Google Takeout Security settings Google services dashboard

Step 2: Tweaking your Android Settings

2.1 Disabling GPS and Location settings

Ever wonder why Google Maps is so accurate with traffic? Google by default accesses your device location, id etc. every time and everywhere you go. It uses this data to track the no of Android devices in a particular region for its traffic services and so. Also, it tags your geolocation data with every picture that you click. So, the next time you share your photos with someone, you also pass some important parameters like your location along with it.

So to disable Location you need to navigate to your Settings > Select ‘Location’. Flip the toggle to ‘OFF’ position in the top right corner of the screen. Next, go to ‘Google Location History’ and disable the toggle in the top right corner. Also, delete your old location history by tapping on ‘Delete Location History’.

Disable GPS and Locaation for Privacy on Android

Related Article: How to Fake GPS Location on Android

2.2 Disabling pre-installed apps/ bloatware

Many Android phones often come packed with some unnecessary software by their cellular carrier or the device manufacturer. These apps tend to occupy your storage space, jumble your system, drain your battery and worse may even run at startup and collect anonymous user data.

You can disable these apps by going to Settings > Apps. On Android 5.0 or lower, you may need to swipe to ‘ALL’ tab to see your system apps while on the higher Android version you can do so by tapping on the 3 dot menu on top right of your screen. Select the app you want to disable and then press the ‘Disable’ button to disable it completely.  

Tip: If you have a rooted Android device, you can uninstall them with apps like Link2SD, AppMgr III etc.

Disable pre-installed apps for privacy on Android

Related Article: How to Quickly Uninstall Android Apps

2.3 Disabling all Google stock applications

Just like Manufacturer apps you also get tons of pre-installed Google apps which hardly come in use any day. They occupy your system space, blocks your RAM memory, and also collects user data while running in the background.

Disabling Google apps is same as disabling any system pre-installed apps. You can follow the same steps mentioned above for Disabling preinstalled system apps.

Disable Google pre-installed apps for privacy on Android

2.4 Disabling Backup and restore option

Keeping Automatic Restore ON will backup all your apps and network related data on your Google space. This means that all your sensitive data like messages, call history, photos including your passwords are backup periodically on their remote servers.

Now, this step is unnecessary if you skipped the Google Sign-in option during boot. But just in case if you got this option ON then you need to turn it off right away. You can do so by going into your Settings > Backup & reset. Disable the ‘Back up my data’ and ‘Automatic restore’ option.

Disable Google Backup for privacy on Android

2.5 Disabling Google keyboard permissions

There have been a lot of talks on the Internet about Google keyboard uses a lot of unnecessary device permissions. With utilizing so many permissions for a simple keyboard application, it definitely looks something fishy in here. With access to your contact cards, accounts on your device, storage contents, download files without notification and most importantly full internet access, the Google keyboard can pretty much control all of your device content.

You can either switch to a more privacy-friendly keyboard app or disable these permissions completely (for Android 6.0+ users only). To disable these permissions, navigate to Settings > Apps. Search for Google Keyboard > Permissions and disable the permissions according to your preference.  

Tip: If you have a rooted Android device, you can manage apps permission with apps like Xprivacy.

Disable Keyboard permissions for privacy on Android

Step 3: Replacing some default Android Apps

Now, since we have opted out of all the Google services, we need an alternative for PlStoreore, Maps, Mail and so. Hence here we have compiled a list of all the privacy oriented apps that can be easily used as a replacement for the early ones.

3.1 Google Play -> Aptoide/ F-Droid/ Amazon Appstore

Aptoide is the next best alternative to Google Play store. It offers the same UI as Google play and has a vast collection of 0.7 million apps/ games. The apps are well categorized and interestingly it also offers some popular paid apps for free but by filling them with ads.

F-Droid is the best place for security and privacy concerned applications. It has tons of Open Source apps having their codes open for everyone.

Amazon Appstore is the next best place after Aptoide. With 0.6 million apps and games, it offers some well-known paid apps for free (including the in-app purchases) plus it also lists one paid app for free every new day.

Amazon Appstore

Related Article: 8 Alternatives To Google Play Store

3.2 Google Maps -> MapQuest/ OsmAnd- Maps & Navigation

With MapQuest, you won’t feel the absence of Google Maps anymore. It has all the extra features like voice-guided GPS navigation, browsing for a nearby Point of Interest and much more. It also offers some basic features like saving your work/ home address, automatic and alternative reroutes optimized according to real-time traffic and Uber and Car2go services as well.

OsmAnd is an Open Source app which works in offline mode also. It has all the basic features like Satellite view, turn-by-turn voice guidance, automatic rerouting, nearby Points of Interest and much more.

Maps & GPS Navigation — OsmAnd

Related Article: Comparing 4 best Offline Maps Apps for Smartphones

3.3 Gmail –> K- 9 Mail

K-9 Mail is an open-source email client with many enhance security features. On the Server side, it follows some authentication methods like Client-side TLS certificates and CRAM-MD5 encryption and also offers support for STARTTLS and running over TLS. It also offers support for PGP/MIME encrypted e-mail when used with an external app called OpenKeychain. (Instructions on how to use OpenKeyChain) Apart from the security it also offers some cool features like multi- folder sync, multiple accounts, search, filling, flagging, signatures, IMAP and WebDAV support, emojis and much more.

K-9 Mail

3.4 Google Chrome –> GNU IceCatMobile

IceCatMobile is the GNU version of the Firefox browser with some custom privacy modifications. The features included in the browser are GNU LibreJS aiming to address the Javascript trap, Https-Everywhere which encrypts your browsing session with many major websites, SpyBlock based on AdBlock Plus which blocks privacy trackers and third party requests and also some Fingerprinting countermeasures. It also allows users to add some custom add-ons.

GNU IceCatMobile

Related Article: Top Google Chrome Extensions for Privacy (for Desktops)

3.5 Calendar –> Jorte Calendar

It’s one of the most popular and organizing calendars out there with tons of extra features. With some basic features like add daily events, task list. events calendar, sync it also aims at providing some more features like create diary entries with pictures, sharing a calendar event’s link, widgets, cloud services and much more.

Jorte Calendar & Organizer

Related Article: Comparing the Top 5 Calendar Apps for Android

3.6 Camera –> CameraV

CameraV encrypts every image or video taken with a password and allows you to store private notes or tags within any image or video. It can also store some extra data from your device sensors and has a built-in secure camera that supports selfie mode too.

CameraV

Related Article: 10 Android Apps to Hide Your Private Photos And Videos

3.7 Phone & Messaging –> Signal Private Messaging & Calling (was TextSecure and Redphone)

Signal is completely free, open source and the best secure replacement for Calling and Messaging. For Messaging it’s just like a normal chat application providing some primary features like group conversations, picture, and video messages. 

The calling functionality provides crystal clear conversation allowing you to make a call at a long distance without any extra cost. The calls and messages are secured and not stored on any online servers on the web. This means that no one – your ISP, SIM carrier or the government can listen to any of your conversations.  

 Top Developer Signal Private Messenger

Related Article: 6 Things You Need Know About Email Encryption

Step 4: Using VPN Services

VPN’s are the best privacy tool an Android smartphone can ever have. A VPN allows you to browse the Internet via a secured server provided by a VPN provider. All data traveling between your phone and this ‘VPN server’ is securely encrypted by changing the IP address assigned to your device earlier. It provides privacy by hiding your online activity from the government and the ISP, geo-spoof your location, allows P2P download, and also protects you from hackers when on an unknown wifi network.

How does a VPN work

Related Article: 5 Best Free VPN Service For 2016

Note: Using a VPN can never ensure anonymity. But using a good no logs VPN service can provide a high degree of privacy.

Related Article: What is VPN, and Why You Should Use it?

Step 5: Using Tor network

Tor is a free and open network which pushes your online data through a series of different servers around the world. In a nutshell, when you access a website you don’t actually connect to it. Your connection is first encrypted and passed to another server which again encrypts and passes it to another server. This goes on until it reaches the server of the targeted website.

Now Tor has been available for desktops for a long time. But for Android, it was available with some limited functionality. However, with this new suite of Tor apps, it kinda gives users a strong private connection for a secured browsing experience.

Related Article: Surf Internet Anonymously With Tor Browser Bundle

5.1 Orbot (Tor Proxy Network)

Orbot in the simplest form is a connector between your phone and the Tor network. It’s a free proxy app that encrypts your internet traffic and hides your IP by bouncing it through a series of servers around the world. Some of its important features are that its open source, it passes data through Tor network for any installed apps (only if it has proxy feature), and you can choose which specific apps to use for Tor.

Orbot: Proxy with Tor

5.2 Orfox (Tor Browser)

While Orbot connects you to Tor, Orfox lets you use that connection. Orfox is simply Firefox browser for Android but with some minor changes to support its privacy-enhancing feature.

It removes Android permissions for Camera, Contacts, Microphone, Locations and NFC, with some features like WebRTC and interaction with Roku and Chromecast devices, plus it also adds patches at the Android Java code layer to push all the Java network through its local Orbot proxy network.  

Orfox: Tor Browser for Android

Wrapping Up: Effective ways to stay Anonymous on Android

The only way to stay anonymous on the Internet is to avoid being on the internet in the first place. But since this is not possible for most of us, these tips will help you keep your privacy in check.  

Yet, If you feel I missed something, then let me know in the comments. Also if you have any queries about installation or setup of any step as mentioned above, do ask them below.

 

About Mufaddal Masalawala

Mufaddal Masalawala '20 is a College student pursuing his Engineering degree from Mumbai. From school, he has been an average student in studies but excitingly had a lot of interest in the technical community. He got his new laptop when he was 16, from then on he started exploring the tech world and is still on it! Besides writing, Mufaddal enjoys spending some time with his family and friends.