The operating system claims no tracking, popular apps, and good user interface, but does it succeed?
Earlier this year, big data researcher Douglas Leith from Trinity College Dublin published a set of results in partnership with Ars Technica, where he claimed that Android phones were pinging Google’s servers with telemetry data. user about once every 4.5 minutes. He went on to say that Android collects almost 20 times more data than Apple. While Google (as well as Apple) objected to Leith’s conclusions, his data is significantly corroborated in numerous reports. One of those parts is the / e / Foundation, which states that Android phones have active trackers that ping Google up to 90 times per hour, especially when a device is active. It’s this harsh level of data collection that the privacy-centric nonprofit / e / OS foundation aims to educate people about.
What is / e / OS
Founded by Mandrake Linux creator Gael Duval, / e / OS focuses squarely on privacy and Google’s replacement for a smartphone. It is supported by the / e / Foundation, the nonprofit holding company that has kept all / e / OS developments open source. The main promise of the operating system is to help prevent Google from seeing where you are and what you are doing at all times. It’s a fork of Lineage OS, a similar AOSP operating system, and it claims to give plenty of apps, a good, useful UI, chat-based support, and reduced tracking.
To do this, however, / e / requires the user to make a number of compromises. For one thing, it’s not available for all phones, so unless your phone is in the list of those that / e / supports right now, you’re out of luck. If you have an eligible phone on hand, then you will have to go through a fairly complex process of rooting your phone and installing the new operating system on it. There are a number of complications in this process, and that in itself may limit the general accessibility of this tool. The final tradeoff is the biggest of all – if you’re heavily dependent on Gmail for your day-to-day business, / e / OS won’t be quite your thing.
The promise of privacy
The central problem that / e / OS solves is the amount of data that Google collects on average from an Android phone. Numerous reports have cited the data collection practices employed by Google, even though the company guarantees that it does not take more data than necessary, and also treats it with great security. However, the truth is, all data collected from you is commoditized and sold to advertisers for commercial purposes – whether through Google or Facebook.
To that extent, / e / OS does a decent enough job of reducing what Google may know about you. It starts with location tracking – as part of the network and overall telemetry data, key identifiers for your location are often included in data packages relayed to servers. While any network provider would do this to ping the nearest cell tower and keep you connected, privacy advocates have argued that putting the blame on a company like Google gives it a unbalanced power over your collective data and those of the company. With / e / OS, much of this data collection is avoided, or at least reduced.
Reports and reviews of / e / OS on numerous forums have undertaken a packet data analysis to reveal that / e / OS severely limits the data sent to Google’s servers. A big part of this privacy claim is the switch from / e / OS to third-party apps from the default Google apps. To deliver popular apps, / e / uses microG – an open source mobile service. The / e / app store largely features third-party apps that scroll from Clean APK or APK Pure (more on that later), meaning that while it doesn’t have Google services, / e / OS has many of the most popular third-party apps – such as Netflix, Uber, Signal, WhatsApp, etc.
This, however, is / e / OS’s biggest conundrum – that the operating system itself doesn’t ask Google to send data, most third-party apps are looped using APIs. from Google and Facebook. Therefore, if you want to use some of the more popular apps, it’s pretty much inevitable to keep complete privacy from Google’s prying eyes. So the / e / OS claim is largely relative – it partially improves things, but using most apps means that at least some amount of intermittent data will be sent to Google. However, it relieves a certain amount of around-the-clock monitoring that comes with using a standard version of Android.
The good and the bad
Beyond privacy, / e / OS is a mix of good things and factors that are being worked on. For starters, the / e / OS app support gives you access to many popular apps. It lacks a number of India-specific apps, such as banking and digital payment apps, but for general and globally popular apps the supply is vast. / e / also keeps the software regularly updated with security updates, which makes things more reliable.
Then there is the interface. The / e / OS experience is actually quite good, being more than usable and often actually quite ergonomic. It is easy to set up personally and is a very good smartphone experience. It doesn’t look like a scuffed AOSP build, which is its greatest strength. The operating system also offers its own email account, cloud storage, and data sync through NextCloud, giving users an easy option to sync their data across multiple devices.
The difficult bits, however, are present in parallel. For one thing, / e / OS doesn’t let you uninstall or hide its default apps, even if you never use them. Then there is a big question mark about the third-party apps available on the / e / app store. / e / lack of clarity in the provisioning of third-party apps, and it’s not entirely clear whether apps are offered directly by developers, or even assigned regular software updates and patches. Given the current cybersecurity climate, this can be a major and alarming point to consider.
Final verdict: is it worth it?
To be honest, it is. All shortcomings taken into account, / e / OS ensures that overdependence on Google is reduced to a great extent. It doesn’t send much of your data to Google in an arbitrary manner, which makes overall usage much safer. On top of that, you have access to most of the most used apps, which you can download and use if you really need to. The presence of cloud sync means that data transfer and backup are also quite usable.
/ e / OS lacks key aspects such as verifying proposed applications, a complicated setup process, and a limited number of supported devices at this time. However, if you can settle for these compromises, / e / OS is well worth it if you are concerned about the growing threat to your privacy today.
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