Can an Android phone run without Google?

Does Android really allow for a smartphone experience where you don't share with Google?

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Google wants to know your location, in its browser, in its phone, which you're holding

Say what you will about Google, which is moving toward a new model of privacy and coming under lots of scrutiny over their iPhone, but they offer at least a novel concept of freedom: a smartphone platform they built, but which doesn’t necessarily require their own apps to run. It’s not easy, and you might actually have to slightly endanger your phone to get there, but there exists an Android phone that doesn’t give Google personal data, ad revenue, or anything else.

So, how, exactly, do you trick Google into giving you the foundation without allowing them to look through any windows? Here’s how to set up an almost entirely non-Google-powered Android, in practice:

Don’t sign in during setup or enable backups

When you first turn on your phone, or after you perform a “factory reset” on it, you’ll be asked to sign in with a Google account. Don’t do it, and look for the “Skip” option. Your phone can run without a Google account, and you can add other accounts to fill out your contacts and calendar and the like--Microsoft Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, and more. Also skip the options to send feedback about your usage, back up your settings to Google, and so on. Skip just about everything.

Hide or remove Google apps

This is the trickiest part of the whole Bizarro-Droid process. You have two options, as I see it:

  • Root your phone and remove Google apps: If you truly wanted to wipe your slate clean of Google’s Gmail, Calendar, Maps, and other offerings, you’d need to give yourself deep access to the phone’s internals, referred to as “rooting.” The complexity of rooting varies phone to phone, but once it’s done, you can disable Google’s built-in apps, along with the stuff your carrier and manufacturer jammed on there. Or you can install an entirely new OS, like CyanogenMod, which won't install with Google Apps unless you want it to.

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