Having followed the development of the open source project to free users from the systems of Apple and Google, Mister Mobility took the first step and created his /e/ account. What is /e/ and why should anyone care?
Yesterday, I took the first step and created my /e/ account. I have been following the work of the e-Foundation team since December 2017. It has been very interesting. With the new OS now available for 80 phones from 16 manufacturers, and a growing ecosystem, I decided it was time to jump in too.
When announced almost 2 years ago, the objective was to develop a smartphone operating system that would:
- be free from Google – no Google services, no Google search, no Google Play store, etc.
- be far more respectful of user’s data privacy
- be attractive enough so that Mom and Dad, children and friends would enjoy using it even if they aren’t technophiles or geeks.
The whole idea is that modern mainstream smartphone platforms prey on the personal data of users. For example, a study published in August 2018 by Prof. Douglas C. Schmidt, Vanderbilt University, and his team, revealed that the average Internet-connected smartphone connects to Google Servers tens of times per hour and sends huge amounts of personal data to Google servers – even when you have no Google services in use.
Did you know that when using Chrome browser, it “collects personal information (e.g. when a
user completes online forms) and sends it to Google as part of the data synchronization process. It
also tracks webpage visits and sends user location coordinates to Google” . Amazing; right?
We also already know that your Android phone tracks your location all the time whether or not you have GPS active. I found that out personally to my shock.
Hello, /e/ OS
/e/ OS wants to hand users back their privacy. Work started with the OS being forked from LineageOS (formerly CyanogenMod) and has progressed well into beta software which anyone can download and flash to a wide range of existing devices.
The /e/OS beta has been available since September 2018 and works smooth on several devices. Beyond the beta software, the e Foundation has created a suite of alternative services – afterall if you don’t want your data collected and milked, there is no point using a Google account. That is where getting an /e/ account comes into the picture.
/e/ does not include any Google apps that are pre-installed in the average Android phone. The e-Foundation provides an alternative suite of services though, and you will need an /e/ account for that. Note though that because this project is all about freedom and there is Android app compatibility, you can choose to install Google apps should you want to. It is your call.
What does an /e/ account offer?
Using an /e/ account is similar in some ways to using a Google account. It gives you access to email, drive, calendar, notes, tasks, etc. The difference is that /e/ does not track you to sell ads, scan your mails, or use your personal data for anything.
And the entire project is Open Source.
I have set up my /e/ account on the OPPO F11 Pro, which I am currently reviewing. The setup process is as easy as setting up any other IMAP email account, and I am sending and receiving mails without issues. I will explore the other services available.
Two features I need to be sure work well are Calendar sync and Contacts sync. These two are essential to me. I can live without a lot of services, but not these two. I shall definitely report back on these in my review of /e/.
Smartphones that are compatible with /e/
Having an /e/ account means that I can enjoy the above services as replacements to Google’s equivalent services. There is the option to flash the OS to a device by myself, or to order for a smartphone that has the OS pre-installed on and have it shipped to me.
Looking at the list of supported devices, there is quite a variety. We have devices from Essential, Fairphone, Google, HTC, Huawei, LeEco, LG, Motorola, OnePlus, Samsung, Sony, and Xiaomi, among others.
For starters, I will probably go for the cheapest option – a second-hand model and flash /e/ OS on it for a first experience. A Nexus 5, Moto G or Pixel smartphone will do nicely. I am not quite ready to flash my Galaxy S9 Plus.
As a matter of fact, I haven’t been as involved in ROM flashing as I once used to be. The last time I flashed was in late 2017 when I tried to flash my BQ Aquaris to UBports Ubuntu Touch, another privacy-enabled OS based on Ubuntu OS. And before then, it was donkey years ago that I flashed anything last.
As I understand it, installing and using /e/ OS does not require an /e/ account, but I figured that since I no longer have a Micorsoft account, I might as well take this up. Plus, when I eventually get my hands on a device running the OS, I want to be able to experience the full package.
One small step for me. Perhaps an even bigger step for privacy? I have never been a big fan of giving up so much private, personal information for the sake of convenience. In a year’s time, I might no longer carry an Android smartphone as my daily driver. As they say, time will tell.
- Google Data Collection paper (PDF).