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My Fairphone and I Love Free Software

Some time ago I recommended the crowdfunding campaign to produce the Fairphone. In early January my Fairphone arrived, and I’m still experimenting a lot, but I’d like to share initial ideas on what software I did (not) install. I love free software, and I did not install anything but free software.

I love Free Software!

The Fairphone is special in that it is shipped without Google apps, which is highly unusual for an Android phone and which I consider a great advantage. (If you want to use Google apps, there is a simple install process, though.) I don’t use “cloud” services in general because I believe in the value of privacy of thought and communication; in particular, some data is my data, and I’m not aware of any “cloud” service that deserves my trust to handle my data according to my interests. (Previously, I’ve written about that in German. For deeper discussions in English I suggest Eben Moglen’s article on the tangled web and Richard Stallman on Android and users’ freedom.)

Basically, I’d like to own a phone that doesn’t send my data to third parties and that remains mostly operable while offline. Clearly, as the Fairphone is still a mobile phone, if I insert and activate a SIM card, my location is shared with my phone company, from where it is shared with or leaks to known and unknown third parties. Maybe I should deactivate both SIM cards more often and default to SIP calls via Wi-Fi. However, I’m digressing as trust in the cellular network is not the focus of this posting.

Returning to my choice of software, the first thing I installed was the F-Droid app, FDroid.apk. F-Droid is a replacement for Google’s store that offers free software, and I’ve got the impression that the combination of Fairphone and F-Droid appeals to many people (e.g., see this Fairphone support thread in general or this article for some background information on F-Droid and the task of calendar migration).

I’m using ownCloud on my desktop PC to maintain and synchronize my phone’s contacts and private calendars, and I’m using a second ownCloud instance at work to synchronize a work related calendar. The synchronization itself takes place via CalDAV and CardDAV over HTTPS. As Android does not support CalDAV and CardDAV, additional software is necessary, e.g., CalDAV Sync Adapter or DAVdroid. I installed both for testing, the CalDAV Sync Adapter for the work calendar and DAVdroid for contacts and private calendars. So far, both work perfectly. I love free software.

For e-mail, I installed K-9 Mail. Personally, I don’t trust my phone enough to store encryption keys. If I did, I would probably use APG for OpenPGP encryption. I love free software.

Then, I’m using some apps to provide offline maps, dictionaries, and Wikipedia. I’m quite proud to carry the German Wikipedia in my pocket (3.2GB for the version without images) via Kiwix. Kiwix is not yet available in F-Droid, but you can download the app from the project’s page. Files for Wikipedia in several languages are available. As offline dictionary, I’m using QuickDic. For offline maps and routing, I’m using OsmAnd~, which is based on maps created by OpenStreetMap. I love free software.

In addition, I also built and installed NetworkLocation.apk, which is part of the μg Project to provide a free replacement for Google apps. NetworkLocation.apk in particular makes use of data exported from OpenCellID, which in turn collects position information for GSM base stations, to determine my approximate location based on the signal strengths of surrounding cell towers. As I wrote above, my SIM card operator knows where I am. Via NetworkLocation.apk, I can also know where I am, without GPS and without any Internet connection at all. That’s pretty cool, don’t you agree? Thus, OsmAnd~ shows my approximate position, wherever my phone receives a GSM signal, without GPS and without Internet connection. Of course, that type of positioning requires accurate GSM cell information in OpenCellID, and there are several apps to contribute to that data set. Currently, I’m using Keypad-Mapper 3 (whose primary purpose is to map house numbers for OpenStreetMap) to collect cell information. I love free software.

To support private communication in general, I added the Guardian Project F-Droid Repository to F-Droid. The Guardian Projects develops free software such as Orbot to bring anonymous communication via Tor to Android. For Web surfing, it provides Orweb, for encrypted chat ChatSecure, which implements Off-The-Record (OTR) Messaging. I did not yet try Ostel, but it’s on my list. I love free software.

Of course, there is lots more on my phone, e.g., a terminal emulator, a vastly improved keyboard, and a Debian linux including SSH server and tcpdump. I love free software.

I love Free Software!

Many, many thanks to all you out there who work hard, often as volunteers, to fight for our freedom!