Realistic Options to Gain Phone Privacy Without Feeling Like a Caveman

· 5 min read
Realistic Options to Gain Phone Privacy Without Feeling Like a Caveman
Photo by Parker Coffman / Unsplash

If you care about privacy on your phone, it's important to understand the stark realities of how mobile devices actually function. Phones are designed from the ground up to gather massive amounts of your personal data and activities in order to profile you for targeted ads and other purposes. Tech giants like Google and Apple want you to believe they respect your privacy, but the evidence shows otherwise. It seems privacy has become a luxury rather than a right.

Phones Are Built to Prevent Privacy

Many people don't realize the extent to which phones track and monitor our activities. The truth is, phones are literally designed to prevent privacy. Big tech companies like Apple and Google have built elaborate spying systems into our devices while downplaying any privacy risks through slick marketing.

Everything you do on your phone - from your location to app usage to web browsing history - is tracked and collected. Your phone is like having your ID card permanently welded to a device that knows exactly where you are at all times. You are identified not just by your Google or Apple ID, but that ID follows you across other devices as well. This level of constant monitoring would be unacceptable in any other context, yet we've been conditioned to accept it as normal.

The capitol riot example perfectly illustrates this threat. Over 1000 people have now been charged based on location data collected from their personal phones by Google during the January 6th events.

Phones Spy in Numerous Ways

Most people have no idea the extent phones monitor our activities. Mobile operating systems are literally built to stop privacy through insidious techniques:
Constant Location Tracking - Your phone tracks your precise location 24/7 whether the app has permission or not and whether location is turned off on not. On iPhones, location can be accurate down to inches. This allows others to know if your phone is in the same room as someone else's.
App Telemetry - Phones report exactly what apps you use, how long you use them for, and at what times. This provides a detailed profile of your habits and routines.
Unique Identifiers - Devices like your Google ID, Apple ID, IMEI number, MAC address, and other IDs uniquely identify you and get attached to almost everything you do online.
Web Browsing Tracking - Your Google ID follows you across devices, allowing Google to track every click and page you visit on every website. They know your complete web history.
Political and Advertising Profiling - All this collected data gets used to profile users and place them into "lists" based on beliefs, interests, and purchasing habits - both for advertisers and political purposes.

Phones are not casual devices, they are sophisticated surveillance tools relentlessly recording, watching, and transmitting immense amounts of personal data about you.

Big Tech Lies About Privacy

Unfortunately, the companies collecting and profiting off your data are not honest about what they do. Apple frequently touts privacy and claims the iPhone respects your privacy, but their actions show otherwise. Google's entire business model depends on spying, yet they try to spin it as being for convenient services.

Both companies stealthily track you in ways most users are entirely unaware of. They lobby against transparency laws and work to defeat initiatives that give users more control over data collection. Their marketing departments twist the truth and drop buzzwords like "privacy" to change the narrative. But the phones continue to spy as intensely as ever.

Constant monitoring by tech giants should absolutely be unacceptable for those wanting online anonymity. But complacency due to ignorance will only make the problem worse over time as data collection becomes more invasive and centralized.

Reality Check: Perfect Privacy Isn't Possible

Of course, complete privacy may be impossible in the modern, highly networked world we live in. Street cameras, license plate readers, location data from maps/apps, and more leave few people entirely off the grid. Some level of compromise may be needed.

However, that does not mean we should stop trying to minimize unnecessary privacy risks within our control. While "going caveman" may not be practical, there are realistic steps one can take to significantly reduce digital surveillance, such as using alternative privacy-focused devices.

Degoogled Phones Provide Legitimate Privacy

One option for gaining substantial privacy is using a "degoogled" or privacy-focused smartphone. These devices run the stock versions of Android without Google's intrusive software and spyware baked in.

Phones like the PinePhone, Librem5, and others that run Android Open Source Project (AOSP) lack the ability to call home personal data. There is no association with a Google ID, location and telemetry tracking are blocked, and the OS can be audited since source code is public.

A degoogled phone provides true privacy out of the box without any extra effort required from the user. For example, those involved in the January 6th Capitol riots were identified via location data collected from normal phones. But someone with a degoogled device would have been invisible, since it doesn't transmit to Google servers.

While privacy phones may lack a few apps, 90% still work via alternative app stores or the mobile browser. For important apps like Uber/Lyft, other options exist like mixing devices, which I'll explore next.

Mixing Devices Provides Targeted Privacy

Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, supplementing a degoogled phone with a second "backup" device for specific needs provides targeted privacy that partitions collected data.

For example, one could carry a degoogled primary phone free of surveillance while also having an older Android phone kept powered off in their bag. This secondary phone could then be used solely and temporarily for restricted apps like ride shares or work requirements as needed, with its spying abilities limited to that narrow use case alone. Compartmentalizing smartphones this way partitions data visibility, making it much harder to connect all the dots about you no matter which device(s) you use.

The key things to consider with a dual device approach are:

  • Keep secondary phone powered off when not in use to prevent constant data leaks
  • Don't conduct regular activities or web browsing on secondary phone
  • Use primary private phone for social media, communications where privacy matters most

This targeted approach means big tech only gets limited, segmented data from rarely used secondary devices instead of a complete digital profile from 24/7 smartphone monitoring. It's not an ideal solution, but a careful dual device strategy provides notable privacy advantages over depending on a single spying phone.

Make the Smarter Choice Regarding Privacy

For many, the idea of even temporarily giving up some convenience feels impossible. But when that minor inconvenience translates to constant digital surveillance and a complete lack of privacy, we need to re-evaluate priorities. Saying no to alternative privacy options solely due to potential minor disruptions is simply not a rational stance.

Instead of thinking in absolutes of "going caveman" vs having "no privacy," a mix-and-match approach using degoogled and multi-device strategies can strike an effective balance. Critical thinking is required to look past fear-based all-or-nothing rhetoric and recognize pragmatic privacy-focused compromises are possible.

Overall, the argument that nothing should be done about phones because changing is too hard is ludicrous when the alternative is a complete loss of privacy. Don't give up control of your personal data and online identity so easily. With some planning and adjustment, privacy is achievable without reverting to pre-digital living. The smarter choice is to thoughtfully adopt solutions that minimize unnecessary digital risks and surveillance. Your privacy is worth that minimal effort.


With careful use of privacy-focused smartphones, multi-device strategies, and a bit of technical know-how, individuals can meaningfully reduce their digital tracking footprints and surveillance profiles. While perfect solutions may not exist, targeted approaches provide substantial advantages over complacency. Maintaining some privacy requires mindfully adapting to changing times - it's a choice well worth making.

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