This is an opinion piece by Anthony Feliciano, Bitcoin event organizer and consultant.
Now let’s move on to part two of my series on how our smartphones spy on us. You can find the first part here.
In this part I will talk about:
- Degoogle your mobile operating system.
- Move through SIM, eSIM and IMEI while using your phone
- Bitcoin and Lightning Network apps that can be used on a de-Googleized phone.
- Steps to build your opt-out plan.
CalyxOS and GrapheneOS
GrapheneOS offers a Google Play sandbox:
“GrapheneOS has a compatibility layer that provides the ability to install and use official versions of Google Play in the standard app sandbox. Google Play receives absolutely no access or special privileges on GrapheneOS, except instead of bypassing the application sandbox and receiving a massive amount of privileged access. Instead, the compatibility layer teaches it to operate within the full application sandbox. It is not no longer used as a backend for OS services as it would be elsewhere since GrapheneOS does not use Google Play even when installed.”
CalyxOS also offers an option in practice with their Aurora Store. The principle behind Aurora Store is that the Google Play Service is replaced by microg:
“[It] replaces some functions of Google Play Services while maintaining much more anonymity and privacy.
This lets you download the apps you already know and use every day.
I’m a current GrapheneOS user and have been for a few years now – it’s my retirement plan when I’m tired of Big Tech and draconian governments. I’ve tested many GrapheneOS features and tools that I can and can’t use. In my next article, I will also share what you can do.
SIM, eSIM and IMEI
Every time you buy a new phone from a provider, you comply with KYC (know your customer) protocols, passing your information to the cellular service provider. In exchange, you get a new smartphone with a SIM card (or on some newer phones an eSIM) and an IMEI number that allows you to access the provider’s mobile phone network. This information can be part of a subpoena to a provider for records, along with all your data, text, web history, etc. So what can you do? You always want to communicate with your friends, your family, to have access to the Internet and to be connected to the rest of the world.
You can still walk into Best Buy today and buy unlocked phones with cash. Buy the cell phone directly and it won’t be tied to any carrier like Verizon, ATT, or T-Mobile. No personal information is leaked and you can take your phone to any provider you need to access by purchasing a SIM or eSIM card.
*Bitcoin Pro Tip: You can buy an eSIM and pay via BTC or Lightning.
Bonus Bitcoiner pro tip: Before you buy, make sure when you visit any website you are using a vpn and or Tor to further reduce your online footprint. If you plan to buy via BTC, be sure to use the post-CoinJoin BTC through JoinMarket. For Lightning, make sure the funds you use to open channels from your BTC base layer come from a CoinJoin post to make Lightning payments. An example of a website offering eSIMs for BTC is Silent.link.
This is the extreme step of my opt-out plan. When purchasing a SIM card, the choice is yours. When you purchase a SIM card with cash, the phone’s IMEI number will be provided as part of the activation to ensure it is not blacklisted (stolen). My opt-out phone was never activated via SIM card and my phone is an older model so there is no eSIM option. I use Wi-Fi hotspots to access the internet with a VPN and Tor. There is an advanced technique called IMEI spoofing – I haven’t tried this method, but the purpose is to bypass IMEIs that have been blacklisted to gain access to network providers. Changing the SIM card won’t help either, as the IMEI is still blacklisted.
*Note – When using Wi-Fi, very little device information is recorded, namely MAC address, device model, browser used and operating system — your SIM numbers and IMEI are not saved. However, if your phone pings a cell tower, the information is logged and the records can be easily obtained by simply looking up the IMEI number.
Bitcoin and de-Google Smartphone
Now, for those Bitcoiners who are finally sick of all the spying and tracking, let’s add some Bitcoin and Lightning Networks apps to really make your phone optimal for your deactivation plan.
The following is a list of Bitcoin and Lightning Network apps released by developers and companies that release them as Android Package Kits (APKs). APKs are vitally important when using de-Googled phones because the developers behind them allow them to be installed on your phone without the need for Google Play Service and all the tracking behind it. . As Samourai discovered, having your app in the Google Play Store means you have to comply with their request to remove security features. Samourai has done the next best thing – direct download via APK.
Below are the Bitcoin and Lightning Network apps I use and where to get their APKs, but there are probably more.
- Zeus: Directly on their main page is the APK download. A perfect app to use to connect to your node.
- Breez: From their Github page: “Breez is a Lightning Network mobile client and hub. It provides a platform for simple and instant bitcoin payments.
- Electrum: Download APK for Android. **Note: connect Electrum to the .onion address of your node network, do not use automatic servers when connecting**
- Tor: Download the APK. This is the Tor browser used to connect to the Internet.
- Samurai Wallet: Download the APK. Log in to your Samourai Dojo or use it for Whirlpool.
- BlueWallet: BlueWallet is an easy-to-use custody wallet for Bitcoin and Lightning.
- SBW: A Simple and Easy Bitcoin and Lightning App
- ProtonVPN: This is the VPN service I use — they have a free client with limited country connection options, but also offer paid tiers. Find a good quality VPN service that offers its app via apk.
- Telegram: You can buy a SIM/eSIM card with bitcoin to get a phone number to use as one-time SMS verification. (You will probably want to create a new Telegram account, as you may have used your own personal number to verify your account)
- Element: A chat application used by many people. Some have heard of Matrix, element is the app you can download to your phone.
Anyone using APKs should only use those found on a project’s main website or Github page. It’s highly recommended to avoid websites that offer APKs for an app you can’t find – I don’t trust them, they’re rebuilt by the sites and who knows if you’re getting the real app or one loaded with a remote access to any information you enter into it. So, if you can’t easily find the project’s APK on their site, contact them directly and ask.
Steps to create your opt-out plan:
- Choose an operating system degoogle.
- Charge Bitcoin and Lightning apps at home.
- Add security apps like a VPN and Tor browser.
- Leave your home, take your backup phone with you.
- Find out what works/doesn’t work for you.
- What apps can you “can’t live without?”
- Ask yourself, “What security vulnerabilities did I miss?” »
- Gain confidence in being able to use Bitcoin privately.
I hope you found this article useful. To me, that’s just one more rung when you’re going down the bitcoin rabbit hole ladder. Using technology doesn’t mean we have to give up our freedoms for simple and convenient options. This means that we can develop an opt plan and continue to use Bitcoin. If you enjoyed this, read my other two articles, “Is This Mobile Banking – Bitcoin On The Go” – where I make my Lightning Node mobile and take it on a trip. Then read “How to Make Your Lightning Network Node Mobile” – this is the technical guide on how to make the node mobile. If you can combine all three topics, you’ll be well on your way to truly withdrawing.
I have included three photos to illustrate the end goal.
This is a guest post by Anthony Feliciano. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.