By default, Android apps that are downloaded through the Google Play Store manipulate and start performing a huge amount of tracking. Google is, after all, the world’s largest ad broker and it the surveillance of its users is its entire business model.
In addition to this, there are many weaknesses and vast numbers of app developers that exploit these weaknesses in Google’s security and privacy controls to perform their own tracking of users and gather information so that they can install malware or to perform crypto jacking.
For more information on just how bad the Google Play Store and the apps in it are for your privacy and security, check out this excellent article by two fellows at Privacy Lab, an initiative of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.
What is F-Droid?
F-Droid is an alternative app store that only has categories of applications which are FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) Android apps. In addition to being the open source where the application is free, all apps submitted to F-Droid go through a much stern auditing process than the automated system used by Google. The F-Droid app provides a simple and convenient way to browse, install, and keep track of updates on your device. The result? No-one claims that any system can be 100% infallible, but F-Droid assures that their user can be as sure as it is possible to get that apps downloaded from it are ad-free and tracker free from both the app developer and Google.
All apps are also free in every sense of the word – they cost no money and their source code is available for anyone to audit or fork as they please.
The main downside, of course, is that that F-Droid catalogs only around 2,600 apps, compared to over 1.43 million on the Google Play Store.
That said, many of the apps that are available are excellent. Check out the end of this article for a sample list.
F-Droid was audited for security in 2015, and any issues discovered then have been fixed. Another public audit is planned in 2018.
How to use the F-Droid app?
You can search for applications and download Android apps from the F-Droid website in a .apk format directly.
Doing this, however, misses out on the main advantages of using F-Droid such as additional security and update notifications. To get the full advantage of F-Droid you should, therefore, download the F-Droid app (.apk file format) from the website.
As always when downloading Free and Open Source Software from the internet, you should check its security such as digital signature to ensure that the app you are downloading is as intended by its developers. Apps downloaded through the F-Droid app will have a digital signature by F-Droid and will definitely be safe.
The F-Droid app
The app’s aesthetic tends towards the functional, but it is easy to navigate and use.
As with the Google Play Store, you can browse apps by category.
In addition to securely digitally sign downloads, a big advantage of using the F-Droid app is secure update notifications.
Updates can be auto-downloaded and/or you can opt to receive notifications when they are available.
In addition to the main F-Droid repository, you can add a number of external directories known as repository or repo to the F-Droid app. The Guardian Project repo, in particular, is recommended but from the latest update it is now automatically included within the app prehandedly.
Best F-Droid Apps
- Fennec F-Droid: Fennec F-Droid application is the latest version of Firefox stripped of any proprietary bits found from the official Mozilla’s builds.
- ownCloud: ownCloud application is the self-hosted cloud storage.
- NewPipe: NewPipe application is an amazing application created as a front-end for YouTube that does not require you to sign in to your Google account and bypasses any regional restrictions that come from the videos.
- OpenVPN: OpenVPN for Android is an application that can connect to any OpenVPN services using regular OpenVPN certificates and protect your privacy and surf the internet.
- Face Slim: Face Slim is an unofficial Facebook app without the tracking and other invasive features found in the official app which includes full Messages functionality without the need of an external separate messaging application such as Facebook Messenger or the rather clumsy hack of running the Facebook website in desktop mode on your phone’s browser.
- K-9 Mail: K-9 Mail is fully featured email client mailing application.
F-Droid Review Conclusion
F-Droid is the greatest alternative to Google Play store which has free application and open source malware-free applications that don’t track you. What is not to like about it?