No more Gmail, no more Google+, and no more Facebook
One of the primary goals of the Dark Android Project is to help get you away from Alphabet (Google) and its services. Why, you ask? Because if you are interested in recapturing your privacy, anonymity, and security in your digital life (and thus by default in today’s world, your “meatspace” life, as well), getting away from a company that has the very business model of knowing everything about you, and when it’s an open question as to how much they share that information…well…getting away from Alphabet is a pretty quick solution to begin that privacy recapturing process. And frankly, getting away from Facebook as much as possible doesn’t hurt either. As Edward Snowden had said, beware Alphabet (Google) and Facebook.
Unfortunately, most people online use either or both of these companies to some degree to communicate. So if you’re trying to stay in touch with various people for whatever reasons that use these services, you may feel a need to communicate within those company’s ecosystems. So is it possible to talk to people that use Facebook or Alphabet services while sticking with Dark Android principles (ie: not using apps from those companies, or getting apps from the Google Play Store)?
Well…now…it kind of is.
The Phone Number
First, you’re going to want some kind of old Android device that you stopped using that has the Google Play Store on it. Login to that with some kind of bogus credentials (a bullshit Google account of some kind), and get to the point where you can download Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger. That’s all we need to make all of this work on that device.
Second, you need to get a phone number (anonymously with a $5 “dumb phone” burner, if you choose) and have the ability to receive a couple of SMS messages.
If you’re not concerned about anonymity, but you’d just like to use the services I describe in this write-up, then you can do this from the Android or iOS device you already have, and you don’t need the older Android device. But you are still going to need a new phone number, unless you’ve never attached your phone number to your Google account or Facebook account yet.
You can get creative with how exactly you achieve this first part, but as long as you now have the phone number you want to use that isn’t attached to other services already, and you can receive SMS messages with it, we’re ready to go forward.
No More Gmail or Google+
A pretty popular way of communicating with Alphabet’s services is to use Google Talk’s successor: Hangouts. Hangouts allows for video conferencing, calling, and messaging, and can even handle SMS if you had a smartphone to make that happen (but we are not really concerned with our Dark Android tablet receiving SMS). Remember, how I’m describing this is so that it can be achieved on a tablet–not a smartphone–as that’s what I recommend if you want actual control of your device. Unfortunately due to SIM cards, you never really have control of your device if it has one (as we describe on the Dark Android Project main page).
But back to Google Hangouts. While it is possible to use Hangouts without having a Google account itself (you can just use your phone number), this won’t let you use Hangouts anywhere other than on the phone that the number is attached to. So you’re going to want that bogus Google account to set up a Hangouts ID.
Here’s the interesting thing that happened recently, though. Google has created a URL (hangouts.google.com) that allows you to use Hangouts–video conferencing, calling, and messaging–all from a simple web page. Previously, to use Hangouts, you’d either have to have some kind of app, or you’d have to access it from Google+ or Gmail. But none of that is necessary anymore (after the initial setup).
What many people don’t know is that when you create a Google account, the two services you can choose NOT to sign up for are Gmail and Google+, and I certainly don’t recommend using either. So now, when you set up the bogus Google account that we described, you can tell them you don’t want a Google+ account, nor do you want a Gmail account. Because you won’t be using those services, you are severely limiting what data Google can collect from you, but you can still use Hangouts now through the web page!
On your Dark Android tablet, using the web page will be achieved by using some variation of the Firefox browser that you get either an independent .apk for, or that you get from the F-Droid store. If you were trying to adapt this to a smartphone, you’ll have to request the desktop version of the site when you visit it, and it will probably be pretty painful to use on a small screen. Again, you can adapt anything I talk about with the Dark Android Project to whatever device you want, but keep in mind 99% of the time I’m talking about using a tablet on this blog and project.
So now you can communicate with all those people that just love to use Hangouts, and they can easily find you (if they know your anonymous–or not so anonymous–account).
Frankly, even if you don’t do this for Dark Android purposes, being able to use Hangouts and delete your Gmail and Google+ account are fine things to do anyway. Clearly, to take advantage of the more forward-looking communication features that a Google account provides, neither Gmail or Google+ are necessary anymore.
No More Facebook Account
How about getting rid of that Facebook account? That’s a fine idea, in my opinion. But what about those 1 billion people that still use it? What if they want to get in touch with you?
Well, in much the same way that we solved the Hangouts problem, we can also solve the Facebook problem. A few months ago, Facebook made it so that you can use Facebook Messenger (the app) by just providing your phone number. No need for a full Facebook account anymore. This means that people who use Messenger can look you up via your phone number, and still use Messenger to get in touch with you. While granted you’re still using Facebook’s service, you are significantly decreasing (again) the amount of information that you give Facebook, and eliminating a lot of the ways you can have your privacy infringed upon by having a full Facebook account.
So, with that older Android device with the bogus account logged onto that we described earlier, you’re going to want to pull up the Facebook Messenger app, and go through the Messenger (not Facebook) account creation process. It’s going to ask to send you an SMS message with a code that you’ll have to put in, but you can do that with the dumb phone you bought (or whatever you’re using to set this all up).
Once the Messenger account is created, you can wipe and trash the Android device you used for all of this, or do whatever you want with it, as it will no longer be necessary. Now, just like you did with Google Hangouts, you’ll go to Facebook’s new “Messenger-only” website: www.messenger.com with your Firefox-derived mobile web browser on your Dark Android tablet. Login there with just your phone number and password (DO NOT GO TO THE MAIN FACEBOOK SITE), and you now are able to use Facebook Messenger without a full Facebook account, and without installing any of Facebook’s apps (and thus, no need for the Google Play Store).
And now you can also chat with all of those 1 billion Facebook users via their “favorite” platform (with relative anonymity if you desired it and it set it up that way).
Again, even if you weren’t doing a Dark Android device setup, I think not having a Facebook account and just using a Messenger account and its adjoining desktop website is a fine thing to do. The less information we give these companies the better, but I totally understand why people feel a need to connect with others through these services.
Oh no, we’re not done yet. There are other possibilities that follow a similar path. The omnipresent Skype now is also accessible via a website, and while it is limited in its functionality, due to developments with WebRTC (which Firefox-based browsers generally have built-in–besides IceCat), it will likely soon be possible to use Skype with all of its features in the near future via your web browser on a Dark Android tablet. Just go through the setup with bogus accounts as we described above. While right now you can only send text messages with it, again, in the future you’ll likely be able to use video conferencing features, as well. Of course, do keep in mind that WebRTC has some of its own security concerns.
Also, I’m sure some are wondering about the phone number aspect of this: If I’m making a bogus Google account anyway, why don’t I get a Google Voice number and use that through the website on my tablet? That is certainly possible, and would allow you to make phone calls and receive SMS from your tablet. Also, you’d be able to integrate that with the Hangouts website that has a much less cluttered setup than the Google Voice website. I’m not opposed to that idea by any means, but in case some people were, I wanted to avoid using it in this process. But you are certainly free to do so. Google Voice numbers are very, very handy. Granted, on a tablet device, you still won’t have that 100% persistent data connection (since it’s WiFi-only), and if you used it a on a smartphone…well…uhhh…duh…that’s kind of superfluous.
Another thing you can do when you have a phone number and the ability to receive SMS messages is you can use TextSecure on your tablet, even without a SIM card. TextSecure uses your devices data connection (as compared to in the past it used SMS), and could be run on a Dark Android device. Keep in mind that TextSecure is the cream of the crop in encrypted communications on any Android device (and soon will allow for encrypted voice calls, which is very exciting), so use it if you can.
Point being, there are now a few less things that you are incapable of doing with a Dark Android tablet while still being able to communicate with others, which is a boon for those that are interested in having an anonymous, private, and secure device that they can feel more comfortable doing things deemed less-than-desirable by society-at-large, or for those that just want to stop sending so much information to corporations and governments.
You never have to go as far as I describe on the Dark Android Project. You can adapt all of this information to your own taste, needs, and thresholds. I’m not here to judge you. But I do want to let people know how far they can go if they wish to.