Warning: This page is still a draft and should not be distributed until this notice is gone.
This is a wiki page that everybody can edit. Check the history for the last authorized version. If you are a Fellow of the FSFE you can login right now with your usual Fellowship username and password; non-fellows can create a guest account.
Free Your Android Phone!
- Free Your Android Phone!
- Political Background
- The Operating System
- The Apps
- Other Phone Related Initiatives
Android is a mostly free operating system mainly developed by Google. Unfortunately, the drivers for most devices and most applications from the "market" are non-free. This page collects information about running an Android system as free as possible and tries to coordinate these efforts.
Smart-phones are small computers that we carry around all the time. Most smart-phones are not controlled by the users, but by the manufacturer and the operator. The software that runs on them is not Free Software. Even Android phones ship with non-free software and proprietary add-ons that usually do not work in the full interest of the user. Software updates will only be made available when the manufacturer still has a commercial interest in your device. The applications (apps) available from the official market are most of the time non-free. Nobody is allowed to study how they work and what they really do on your phone. Sometimes they just don't work exactly as you want, but sometimes they even contain malicious features.
Running only Free Software on your device puts you in full control. Even though you might not be able to directly exercise all of your freedom, you will benefit from a vibrant community that can do it together.
Our mobile devices contain more personal information than most private diaries. But proprietary systems, even most Android phones, are designed to leave this data in control of companies like Google or Apple. Most users do not have full control over the personal data on their device. Convenient solutions for cloud-based synchronization and data backup trick more and more people into storing all their data on centralized servers run by some commercial organisation. Whoever has personal information about us is able to manipulate us. Therefore non-free devices are a threat to democracy and our society.
Privacy is one of the most important reasons to support Free Software. Proprietary add-ons like Carrier IQ spy on smart-phone users without their knowledge. Many apps from the market contain malicious features. They read your private data and “phone home”, or they use Google Analytics to send data to Google. These are just examples that have been discovered so far. The lack of freedom impedes independent inspection and secret spy features only become known by accident.
Most smart-phones require you to connect and identify yourself to a centralized server before you can use them properly. Users have to trust the server without knowing what information is stored and how it is processed or related to other data. A phone running only Free Software does not require you to provide data to an untrustworthy company or pressure you to do so – at least this is very unlikely, as the software’s actions would be obvious and the community would be able to develop an alternative version. The convenience of “value-added” services that are often coupled with such connections can be provided using Free Software as well. This keeps you in control of your personal data, your diary remains in your possession. You can have the cake and eat it too.
The Operating System
An operating system is a collection of software that enables you to use your phone and run other applications on it. Even though Android is mostly free, many phones ship with proprietary components and add-ons. Some phones also have a locked boot loader which prevents you from booting and installing other operating systems. If you want to buy an Android phone, make sure that the boot loader can be unlocked and that there are free versions of Android supporting the device.
CyanogenMod is the most popular aftermarket distribution for Android. It runs on many phones and offers features not found in the official Android based firmwares of vendors. It also ships without Google applications and gives you more freedom over your device. CyanogenMod is Free Software developed by an active community. It still requires non-free device drivers and firmware which are fetched from a device and are included in the ROM.
In order to install CyanogenMod, your device's boot loader needs to be unlocked. Some manufacturers consider your warranty void when you've unlocked its boot loader. The Wiki of CyanogenMod contains detailed instructions on how to install it.
After the installation, your phone will be freed from all those pre-installed proprietary applications and there will be no need to connect your phone with a Google account. With the exception of some non-free device drivers, your phone should run only Free Software. If you know about non-free software added to CyanogenMod, please let us know about it! There is a DRM provider app that you can remove.
For most people, the Google Android Market is the only or the main source for their applications. It doesn't even tell you whether an app is Free Software or not, let alone its license. Unfortunately, most apps from this or other markets are proprietary. Even if you install a Free Software app, there is no reason to trust the downloaded binary. Using the Google Market also requires a Google account. It is recommended to not use this market at all.
The FDroid initiative was started to change the sad Free Software app situation in the Android world. It builds a repository of easily-installable Free Software for the Android platform. There is an Android client application that makes it easy to browse Free Software applications, install them onto your device, and keep track of updates. When available it includes information about how to donate money to the authors of the app.
The FDroid repository contains details of multiple versions of each application. You can also easily create and add own repositories. But since the initiative is very active, developing in a decentralized fashion and open to collaboration, creating own repositories it not really necessary. Its goal is to include all useful Free Software Android applications and to keep up with their updates.
You can help to make FDroid preinstalled on CyanogenMod so more people can benefit from a free market.
Adding Apps Yourself
You are encouraged to add applications yourself. There is a long queue of applications that wait to be added. Adding them works similar to FreeBSD ports and gentoo ebuilds by filling a simple recipe file which controls how a package is build from source. If you like to add apps yourself, you should read about how FDroid works with git and how to write these so called metadata files.
Synchronizing Your Data
When you run only Free Software and when you do not rely on non-free network services like the ones Google offers, you lose the convenience of synchronizing your contacts, your calender and other data with your other devices. Fortunately, there is plenty of Free Software that does this job as well:
Freeing Non-Free Apps
Unfortunately, there are still some applications that do not have a free alternative. To use the proprietary app is a bad idea; it takes away your freedom. In addition, if you settle into using the non-free program, you won't feel the need for it to be free. Even if you don't know how to program, you can contact the authors of crucial apps and ask them politely for their reasons of not publishing their application as Free Software. Many apps are available without payments, so money is not always the dominating reason. Sometimes one email can make a difference and there have already been successful attempts: Chess Walk for example is now liberated.
Apps That Still Need To Be Liberated
Please add apps here that have no free counterpart, but are important to have on a free system. People can contact the authors of those apps and ask them why they are not Free Software.
Public Transport App (market search)
Menstruation Calendar and Calculator (market search)
- [please add your candidates here]
Responses to Objections We've Heard from App Developers
Only when we understand the motivation of programmers who keep their apps proprietary, we know what needs to be changed in order to change their minds and to convince them of liberating their own app. Please contribute your experiences with developers of non-free apps here and share useful responses to their objections.
- [need to be found by asking people, please add here]
Other Phone Related Initiatives
Even though this page is about Android, there are other important initiatives that also have the goal to allow you using a phone in freedom. There is the spiritual Openmoko continuation GTA04 from Golden Delicious. It builds a free phone without the need for proprietary drivers. The Maemo/MeeGo initiative has now moved into Tizen and tries to be an alternative free operating system.
Portions of this page are modifications based on work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License. Android is a trademark of Google Inc.