J. R. Swab's Blog

Reclaim Your Privacy With F-Droid

Categories: Technology
Tags: open-source apps android

All modern phones and mobile devices come with a pre-packaged app store to allow you to download useful applications. The store software is closed-source, and the majority of the applications we install are the same.

Maybe the app could be open source if they did not rely on some little bit of code from Android that makes their development life more manageable. However, this still keeps the overall freedom you have with the app at a bare minimum, if you have any at all.

This uncertainty of closed and open source apps in the traditional app store for Android led me to download F-Droid a few years back.

F-Droid is an installable catalog of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) applications for the Android platform. The client makes it easy to browse, install, and keep track of updates on your device. - f-droid.org

Could not have said that any better myself! Every day new apps enter the F-Droid ecosystem, and there is an app for just about everything. Since moving over to F-Droid as my first stop for the apps I use on my phone, I run everything FOSS unless there is not an alternative on the F-Droid platform. In the case that there is not an open source alternative to an app I need than there is nothing else to do except to use the closed source application.

The F-Droid application itself is maintained by "F-Droid" the non-profit entity based out of England and runs solely on donations. So make sure to toss them a few pieces of Bitcoin every so often to help keep this project alive. Without alternatives that are free and open source, we are at the mercy of the companies making the apps we use every day.

The F-Droid app itself is free and open source under the AGPLv3 with the logo and news sections of the app under the standard GPLv3 licensing. This licensing gives any person capable of reading source code the ability to audit the app to make sure it is doing what it claims and only what it claims.

The problem with closed source applications is that we have no idea if they are doing more than they tell us. When using a closed source app or program, it should be assumed that they are collecting information on you, especially if the application is "free."

Cough, Facebook, cough

F-Droid makes some big claims that are pro-user and pro-privacy. They state on their about page the following.

F-Droid respects your privacy. We don’t track you, or your device. We don’t track what you install. You don’t need an account to use the client, and it sends no additional identifying data when talking to our web server other than its version number. We don’t even allow you to install other applications from the repository that track you unless you first enable ‘Tracking’ in the AntiFeatures section of preferences. Any personal data you decide to give us (e.g., your email address when registering for an account to post on the forum) goes no further than us, and will not be used for anything other than allowing you to maintain your account.

That's why I love open source! Every open source application is subject to scrutiny by many nerds out there and if the app spies on their users that information will leak out onto the internet sooner or later. With all the claims that F-Droid makes they need to hold up to this standard or else, they will lose a significant portion of their userbase.

Using F-Droid

Installing F-Droid is super easy to do. All you need is to follow a few steps after downloading to enable some settings on your Android device to install the app.

To get the F-Droid app, you need to head to their website, f-droid.org and download the APK file to your mobile device, once F-Droid is on your phone or tablet head over, to the settings section.

Find the section labeled "Security" or similar depending on your device. In this sub-menu, you should find a setting called "Unknown Sources." This toggle will allow you to install apps from APK files like the one we just downloaded.

This option needs to stay on for us to install any apps from F-Droid. I do not recommend downloading apps from the internet apart from the initial install of F-Droid. Installing an app from a website will put your device at risk of a cracker (an evil hacker) accessing your information.

Once you have F-Droid installed, the process to browse apps is very similar to the Google Play Store with which you are already familiar. You can search by category to find some FOSS games, utilities, dictionaries, and the list goes on.

There is ever a FOSS "English to Esperanto" app that allows you to type in an English word and the app gives you compatible Esperanto words. If something that obscure is on F-Droid, you are bound to find many apps to replace your old, closed source, versions.


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