A new French company called iodé is selling smartphones that ship with a custom Android-based operating system that offers some of the benefits of Android (like ease-of-use) while offering more privacy. The company says its software blocks advertisements, spyware, and other apps and services from tracking your personal data.

One trade-off is that the phones also don’t have access to the Google Play Store. But they do feature the F-Droid and Aurora Store app stores and microG, a privacy-focused alternative to Google Play Services that allows many Android apps to work without sending data to Google’s servers.

Another trade-off? Most of the phones iodé sells are older, refurbished devices. The only exception is that you can buy a current-gen Fairphone 3 or Fairphone 3+ with iodéOS software, but that’s still a 2-year-old phone with mid-range specs, including a processor released in 2018. It’s also only designed to work on European cellular networks.

The rest of the phones available form iodé are refurbished Samsung, Sony, and Xiaomi devices.

But the key selling point for these phones isn’t the hardware, it’s the software.

Google’s Android operating system powers most of the world’s smartphones partly because it’s simple and easy to use… and partly because Android is based on open source software that Google offers it to phone makers for free. But most Android phones also include proprietary Google apps and services including the Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Search — and Google makes much of its money through advertisements placed in those services.

Over the years we’ve seen a handful of projects including ReplicantOS and /e/ which are designed to offer a fully open source and/or privacy-centric alternative to the software that ships with most Android phones. Incidentally, /e/ also sells smartphones with its software, including the Fairphone 3 and several refurbished Samsung models.

The folks at iodé say their iodéOS is based on LineageOS, a popular custom ROM that can be installed on many Android smartphones. The current build of iodéOS is based on Android 10, and it includes software that monitors DNS requests and network packet transmissions to block trackers, malware, and ads, among other things.

You can find a list of sites and services that are used for blocking purposes at the iodé website.

If you already have one of the phone’s iodé sells, there’s no reason to spend money on  a refurbished device – the company also offers iodéOS downloads and installation instructions.

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12 Comments

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  1. Another great resource from Karlruher Institute of Tecnlology of Germany.
    Probably they have their apps listed on F-Droid and other open source app stores but it’s bette to see all of theri “privacy friendly apps” in a hallmark. I didn’t check per app but probably English version is available within packages
    Here is the link https://secuso.aifb.kit.edu/105.php
    Cheers

  2. Do any of these stripped down android products run Samsung Dex?

    I love Dex. I can’t live without Dex. But the permissions required to operate a Galaxy with Dex seem ridiculous and I have no idea what kinds of data are being compiled behind my back. Sure I authorized the ‘permissions’ but if you don’t stuff doesn’t work.

    1. Being android 10, they at least have the desktop mode developer option, allowing the use of external displays at a different resolution than the phone screen. You can then make that more useful.
      This is provided you pick a model with displayport out, of course.

  3. I wish some of these privacy-focused Android builds would focus on offering features that allow people to use unmodified apps in a safe way. Relying on a custom app store to deliver privacy-modded apps is cool, but I’m surprised nobody has thought of a way to sandbox a normal unmodified app.

    For example, why not build a custom version of Android that lets me lock an app in a sandbox that allows me to configure per-app VPN and proxy settings, and also feed the app a fake location, fake audio for the microphone, fake video loop for the camera, a dummy browser API, a fake Google account, and fake file directories.

    Further, it would be nice to be able to specify which network connection each app should use, and even lock an app in a walled garden subnetted LAN, and control its WAN access.

    Removing app permissions is one thing, but I think spoofing an app presents more flexibility. For example, theres a real shortage of trustworthy File Explorer apps out there, seems like everytime I get comfortable with one of them, it gets removed from the Play store for privacy violations. I’d feel more comfortable if I could control its permissions with more detail.

    1. I wish some of these privacy-focused Android builds would focus on offering features that allow people to use unmodified apps in a safe way.

      It’s not everything you’ve asked for, but at least you are halfway there:

      https://cgit.typeblog.net/Shelter/about/

      Regarding your second request, a file manager, I don’t even understand how is it a problem. Probably many of the savvy readers of this blog have learned that you shouldn’t just install any popular app from the Play store from random developers. Play store = untrusted. But there are quite a few fully open source file managers on F-Droid, I never had any issue with them. I mean a file manager is quite a simple application, isn’t it? Really it shouldn’t be an issue.

      1. Thanks for the link for Shelter, I hadn’t heard of that project yet. It seems like it offers a little bit of what I want. It would be cool to see that expanded upon, but I imagine any further features would probably require significant modifications to the OS.

        The reason I’m not using any of the File Manager apps from F-Droid is that there doesn’t seem to be any good ones available that offer the ability to also browse network folders like SMB servers. I think there might be one or two that do offer it, but none that are acceptable overall.

        Now I’m just using Samsung’s native file manager app, as it now seems to offer all the features I need, including SMB server support.

    2. Your questions are great. Because if they letting users to do all those you need then they are not the “product” anymore.
      Android devices has the linux kernel and do everything a computer does, right?
      I add 2 another questions..
      Why still there is no multi-user profiles then? What capability prevent this?

      1. Multiple user profiles is a built in feature in Android 10. It’s under settings->system->advanced->multiple users.
        Shelter makes use of it.

  4. So they put in a firewall, one that you’d normally need root for, by default, and added a custom browser. Honestly that’s most of what I want root for right there, so that’s cool even if it doesn’t have root.
    They might get a better response if they just called it a firewall instead of “MITMing yourself”.