Murena, a French/European firm, has been in the business of deGoogling Android smartphones with its privacy-first approach. With around five years of experience, it offers an alternative operating system called e/OS that is designed to protect user privacy by default. Murena is a not-for-profit foundation, but it also has a for-profit arm that sells devices running its modified OS. One of its notable offerings is the deGoogled Pixel, a Google smartphone purged of all the usual Google services, running e/OS instead of mainstream Android.
Murena’s e/OS offers a privacy-first alternative to mainstream Android by replacing Google’s apps and services with native open-source alternatives. It aims to protect user privacy by default, blocking trackers and limiting data collection. However, compromises are necessary to ensure compatibility with popular third-party apps, such as requiring users to sign in with a Google account to access paid Android apps.
Hardware Agnostic Approach
Murena is hardware agnostic and can install its open-source smartphone OS on a range of new or refurbished devices, including ethical smartphone maker Fairphone’s devices. It also has its own brand of mid-range handsets. The company aims to offer users increased control over their privacy by replacing the usual Google apps and services with a set of native open-source alternatives developed by Murena, including a browser, messaging app, camera software, and contacts application. However, the Maps app is an exception, as it preloads a third-party app called Magic Earth, which is not open source.
Murena’s e/OS aims to provide a privacy-focused experience by blocking trackers and limiting data collection by third-party apps. The OS also features a meta search engine called Spot, which anonymizes requests and aggregates results from third-party search engines to protect against tracking. Additionally, users can choose from several anti-tracking search engine options, including DuckDuckGo, Qwant, and Mojeek.
Privacy Features and Compromises
/e/OS offers a range of built-in privacy features, including a privacy score for commercial apps shown within the App Lounge. This privacy rating is automated and based on the number of trackers detected in third-party apps. However, the ratings may produce odd results, such as giving the Facebook app a high score. Murena plans to improve the privacy score by providing more information about personal data collection found in app terms of service.
Murena also includes “advanced” private browsing features, such as a tracker blocker, location faking option, and IP address hiding. These tools are accessible through a widget on the /e/OS homescreen, allowing users to easily enable or disable them. However, enabling some of these features may impact app performance or Internet speed.
Using Google Services and Apps
While e/OS aims to provide a Google-free experience, it cannot completely eliminate the need for Google services due to the popularity of third-party apps. To access paid Android apps, users must sign in with a Google account in the App Lounge, which is an alternative app store developed by Murena. While Murena claims compatibility with Google’s terms and conditions, there may be a risk of account restrictions. The concern is mainly focused on accessing previously purchased apps on the /e/OS device.
Murena offers support for users migrating from services like Gmail by helping them transfer their data. The company takes a pragmatic approach, recognizing the challenges of competing with mainstream tech while providing a privacy-focused alternative. However, the market for alternative Android devices that offer a balance between privacy and utility remains uncertain, as many users may prefer the convenience and privacy features provided by Apple’s iOS ecosystem.
Murena’s e/OS represents an ambitious and ongoing effort to provide a privacy-focused alternative to mainstream Android. While there may be some performance trade-offs and compromises, Murena aims to offer users greater control over their privacy by default.