Monopolistic competition in the tech industry makes massive limitation for the users who are very concerned about their online privacy and security. Moreover, after what Facebook and Google did recently regarding collecting and using user’s data without letting them know, it is crucial to find a secured alternative as soon as possible.
Due to this online privacy discomfort, we are approaching different projects, which share the same objective as us, which is to enable user’s privacy and provide them a way where they can trust the service providers by maintaining transparency.
And at the time of our research, “/e/” (Eelo) caught our eye because of their unique idea, which could be substantial in future for providing ultimate Android services without compromising users data by giving zero access to Google services and apps.
So how it could be possible or how /e/ Android OS could make a huge difference in maintaining the online privacy of users? Well, we found answers to these questions by taking an interview of a man who is behind this idea. So without wasting more time lets see what Gael Duval has to say regarding their project and how his team is working on it.
Q1: lets start with your introduction before asking about your whole unique project Eelo /e/
I’m a software engineer, and also an entrepreneur. 20 years ago I created the “Mandrake Linux” distribution that renamed to “Mandriva” later. Also I’ve always been an open source supporter
Q2: Any reason behind supporting open source platforms especially when there is a high probability of risk is associated with it?
The main benefit of open source is that you know what happens in the software. And that you can fix it and improve it. Moreover, also to review code, to ensure it’s safe in term of security and other concerns
Q3: What was the core idea/reason for establishing this “/e/” project?
Last year, I realized that since 2007, I moved more and more to proprietary solutions for my daily usage. I used an iPhone since 2007, and also more recently I switched from Linux to MacOS. And have been using Google more and more. At the same time I realized that everything was done by these software and hardware makers to catch every piece of our personal data, and to make business of this. I think it’s a real issue, that eventually can lead to the decrease of our rights and of our freedom. I like to tell people the following:
Imagine that when a regular letter is sent, the post mail service would open it, read the content, and add a contextual ad to the letter, and then redistribute it. That would be a huge business model. But that is totally forbidden, and this for centuries. With the smartphones, this is happening all the time, and few of us care. I think that this is an unprecedented situation in history. In addition, I noticed that for smartphones, we have the choice between Apple iOS and Google’s Android. That 99% of the market. In addition to more respect for privacy, users have the right to more choices. Therefore, I started to see what could be done to provide a credible alternative on the smartphone. Something that would provide users a more ethical, and safer environment for their data. I realized that technically, it could be done, without starting from scratch. Then I started the /e/ (e.foundation) project
Q4: After hearing from you about your project, its look amazing, so regarding to provide a secure OS on smartphones or different android devices tell me How your OS is different from Android and iOS regarding users data privacy concern, and how your OS would make a difference in enabling secure online future?
First, I goal is to have something that works, as a credible alternative, as soon as possible. That is the reason why I’ve decided to fork Android (LineageOS) for this. We need something open source that we can improve in term of user experience and also where we can remove all Google services. But at the same time, something that can run existing Android applications, because users use applications. Of course, that means that they use “evil” apps, in term of data privacy, but we will inform them about this. If they do this, it will be a conscious choice. So, “DE googling” is the first step: a Google-free OS, and also default web services around: search, drive, etc., with a strict respect of user’s data. Our business model is not about user’s data. On the long run, we will add more and more privacy and security, and also probably move from the Android stack. We want to give more privacy, more choices, more freedom to users
Q6: How /e/ is contributing to improving the online security of individuals and surrounding communities?
Here there is the short-term answer: nothing but DE googling and putting together software components that are respectful of the user’s security and privacy. For instance, for default sms app, we put Signal, that can be used to exchange messages securely. On the long run, we will add more features on this area, especially for user’s data storage online (drive, mail …). All right which search engine if not google Eelo plans to incorporate it the new OS. First we’ll add more default options in the web browser, like DuckDuckGo and Qwant, before Google in the list. But default will be our meta-search engine that will make users untraceable by search engines
Q7 What’s your opinion about individually on GDPR policies?
I think the GDPR is interesting because it shows that 1) people and politics are starting to care about privacy issues 2) it’s a sign that regulation is starting to rise in this field. On the other hand, I think that this law in particular, will have a very limited impact, because in short it’s asking users to do the job, and leaves the big ones in a dominant position. Who will take the time to read all privacy options and answer them? There is a kind of hypocrisy into this
Q8: What’s your overview regarding recent fine on Google under the policies of GDPR? Is it the right initiative taken by GDPR or not?
The recent record fine against Google by the European Union is about the monopolistic situation of Android. Android owns 87% of the smartphone OS worldwide and it ships with all Google services by default: Google search engine, Application store… This is of course very problematic, and I am very pleased that the EU has taken this action, though I don’t think it’s going to make Google change on this. The market is now demanding an alternative to Google and Apple, more open, more privacy compliant, more ethical. That is exactly what /e/ is about.
Q9: If not Google then what kind of search engine Eelo uses?
We’re putting our own meta-search engine by default, and adding privacy compliant search engines in the list of available search engines.
Q10: Your project is an open source platform, so any suggestions to developers that how they can contribute effectively regarding your project?
They can contact us through our website at https://e.foundation – we have many projects, short term and longer term that are really exciting. We also encourage people to contribute to the microG project, which is very important to have Android run without the Google services.
Q11: How do you stop these social platforms from collecting users data with the help of your OS?
This is a tricky question! Social media platforms are about people connecting to people, and exchanging personal information… /e/ is not intended to interfere at software level with application behaviors, but for specific cases such as removing or faking geolocation on user’s demand for instance. But definitely, the issue here is the business model of the main social media platforms that heavily rely on the user’s personal data collection, for selling advertising and worse if you take the case of Cambridge Analytica/Facebook case. Therefore, we encourage people to use alternative and privacy-compliant social platforms such as Mastodon for instance.
Q12: What challenges/ barriers do you face in your mission? And how you are tackling them?
Communication is key: when people read about the project, they immediately understand the challenges about data privacy, and they support something different. But communication is difficult on mainstream media because of business interests. That’s the reason why I often say to our supporters that the best way to help is to spread the word about /e/ and https://e.foundation
Q13: How are the next ten years like for /e/ regarding providing online data security to users?
We want to create something big that people want to support and protect. The biggest digital ecosystem alternative on user’s data privacy for all. To support this, I’ve created a non-profit organization (called « e Foundation ») that is hosting the project’s assets to make them reliable over time and truly independent from any potentially unfriendly organization.
Q15: What is the main ingredient you are focusing right now on providing a secured online platform?
We’re working hard on the first beta « MVP » which will consist of a first smartphone OS and the web service ecosystem, including mail, drive, Android application repository and search. On thing very important is also the user experience in the OS, so we’re putting real effort on a new launcher and UI improvements. I want /e/ to be desirable by anyone, even if he’s not interested or educated with privacy concerns.
Q16: What is Privacy according to you? (What’s your definition of Online Privacy)
My data is MY data! Only me and the people I choose can know about my personal data and my personal life.
Q17: Do you think user behavior is changing around data privacy?
I think 2018 is Year-1 of online data privacy. Until this year, only tech people were concerned about this, but this year mainstream medias have started to talk about this, especially since the Facebook scandal with Cambridge Analytica, and more recently with the EU fine against Google/Android.
Q18: What tips/advice you would like to share that can help protect the privacy of users?
Use /e/ when it’s available! In the meantime, don’t use mainstream social medias, try alternatives to Google services, browse the web in private mode, disable your geolocation as much as possible, use a VPN if you really need to be secure. For instant messaging, Telegram and Signal have descent security and privacy. Use email encryption for 1 to 1 conversations… For advanced users, use TOR…
Q19 What reading or websites you recommend for readers?
onlineprivacytips.co of course! 1984 the novel, « Welcome to Gattaca » and « Snowden » the movies…