Installing apps on LineageOS for greater privacy

Tips & tricks
4 mins
Smiley icon on smartphone screen

Editor’s note: This is part of our series on alternatives to Big Tech. Read our previous post on installing LineageOS, and learn about getting Android apps from the Aurora Store.

Previously we installed LineageOS on a spare phone to see how viable of an alternative LineageOS was to the versions of Android usually preinstalled on phones.

The most important feature of smartphones nowadays is rarely the phone itself but rather the apps they run. The main advantage of LineageOS is that it does not come bundled with Google Play Services—and the invasiveness of Google in general—but that also means it does not come with the Google Play Store for downloading apps.

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As an alternative we installed F-Droid, a repository for free and open-source software. There are only about 2,000 apps hosted by F-Droid but you can still find a good app for all your basic tasks. Installing apps through a repository such as F-Droid is much preferred, as it gives you some assurance over the quality and benevolence of the apps you download.

If an app is not available through F-Droid, our only chance of running it will be to obtain its APK file and install it directly. Doing so is not always easy, as we will also need to worry about finding the APK from its origin and be able to trust that. Easy to fall for phishing!

There is also the alternative of the Aurora Store, which we will detail in a later post.

Install ExpressVPN on LineageOS

We will have to install ExpressVPN by obtaining the APK from your account. By navigating to ExpressVPN’s Setup page with your Android phone, you can download the APK and install it. You may be prompted to allow for programs to be installed that have been downloaded through the browser.

Once installed, we can use the app as we are used to on Lineage. As we installed the APK directly from source, we will not receive automatic updates.

Install a browser on LineageOS

There are about a dozen browsers available in the F-Droid store, most of which you have never heard of but are lightweight and promise to preserve your privacy. There is one browser built on the somewhat popular Ninja, as well as Firefox Klar, the version of Firefox Focus by Mozilla with user tracking disabled by default.

Firefox Klar only has a single tab and a trash icon to delete your history. Easy.

Install Orbot on LineageOS

Orbot is a Tor proxy for Android. Orbot can run in the background and be configured to automatically route data from certain apps through it. We can use Tor and ExpressVPN together and route the data of certain apps through Tor by default.

To install Orbot, we will need the Guardian Project F-Droid repo. To add it isn’t exactly straight forward, but we found out how. In F-Droid, navigate to the “Nearby” tab. Select “Find people nearby” and deny access to location services. At the bottom of the screen you will see the option to “scan a QR code.” You can scan any of these QR codes on the Guardian Project F-Droid site. You can now find Orbot and other useful apps from the Guardian Project, such as Obscuracam or the Tor Browser.

Orbot is now up and running, but the journey also acts as a reminder that while goods things do come to those running Lineage, it’s not always straightforward.

Install Telegram on LineageOS

While Telegram is neither considered end-to-end encrypted nor a fully open-source project, its clients, including the Android client, are fully open source and as such can be found on F-Droid. Easy!

Install Maps on LineageOS

On Android and iOS we typically recommend as a solid alternative to Google and Apple Maps. We try installing it on F-Droid, but somehow we are unable to install any map material, leaving the application useless to us.

The alternative, OpenMultiMaps, also builds on map material from OpenStreetmaps, but it only provides access to the map as seen through the browser, without the ability to view it offline or mark points of interest. Fail!

Install BLW on LineageOS

Our privacy phone won’t have Apple Pay or Google Pay, so to make mobile payments, we will need to install a Bitcoin wallet. We are opting for the Bitcoin Lightning Wallet (BLW) from F-Droid. While this wallet sometimes looks a bit clunky and basic, it has an excellent tech base and will let you accept Lightning payments by default, which unlike regular “on-chain” payments cost only a few Satoshis and do not require you to wait as they confirm.

All set?

Installing apps through F-Droid or manually is straightforward in LineageOS. Doing so in a safe way will require a bit more caution, and there are none of the usual protections from the Google Play Store. We now have a self-sovereign phone, without default tracking tools or hidden features. This comes at the price that we are now fully responsible for what we load onto it. Not an easy feat, especially given the small number of apps to choose from.

Also read: 3 lesser-known online privacy tools you should start using

Lexie is the blog's resident tech expert and gets excited about empowerment through technology, space travel, and pancakes with blueberries.