Android Becomes Basically Unusable If You Turn Off All of Google’s Tracking
While setting up a new Android phone, one of the first things a user will be prompted to do is add a Google account. Then they’ll be asked to sign away permissions to their location, enable Wi-Fi scanning, send usage statistics, and give information about their apps, contacts, and even voice profile to the Google Assistant.
But what happens if you don’t do any of that? I tried wiping Google from my phone to find out.
My first realization was that completely shutting Google out isn’t really an option if you want a functional Android phone. When I reset an old Pixel 2 so I could start from scratch, one of the first prompts it served me was a request to sign in to my Google account. This account is the gateway to most of the services that make Android phones worthwhile, including basic functions like email, calendar, and the app store. Though the goal of my experiment was to say no to Google as much as possible, in order to use my phone, it seemed necessary to at least use an account.
I hadn’t hit the home screen yet and already I was making concessions. Still, I tried to turn off as much data tracking as possible. I denied Google’s request to use my location, scan Wi-Fi networks, save my location history in Google Maps (which is a separate permission prompt from using my location in general), and enable the Google Assistant. But this wasn’t close to enough to avoid Google’s prying eyes. In order to fully isolate myself from Google, I had to dig into Android’s permission manager, a section of the Settings up under Privacy, a process that isn’t made obvious to the end user during setup.
The permission manager shows users which permissions — such as access to their location, microphone, or camera — different apps are able to access. Most of these defaults make sense. Google Calendar needs access to my calendar, and the Phone app has access to the microphone because, well, those are the basic functions these apps provide. However, I found a few defaults that were, at the very least, confusing.
- The Camera app requires permission to use the microphone. Android apps have had the option to only ask for a permission once it becomes necessary…