News & Analysis

Murena – A Top-end Android Phone That Doesn’t Nick Your Data

Though the device uses Android as its operating system, the team says it has managed to clean up Google's privacy-invaders

If you are aware of the Chambal Valley in Madhya Pradesh, then you couldn’t have possibly missed the irony of this headline. In an Indian context Morena (with an o) is the administrative HQ of this city, which was once the hotbed of battles between cops and dacoits – the law and the unlawful. 

Coming to the point on hand, now we have Mandrake Linux founder Gael Duval claiming that his Murena One X2 smartphone has gotten rid of Google’s snooping features built into the Android OS. The device reportedly uses the open source / e / OS Android fork and is the first of its kind to hit the markets. 


How much does Google snoop? 

Just so that you are aware of the magnitude of Google’s snooping, a recent study conducted by Vanderbilt University claimed that Android sends data to Google even when the smartphone is sitting idle, but has Chrome running in the background. And it does so not ten or twenty times a day, but a whopping 340 times, which is a little over 14 times an hour. 

In the past, there have been several attempts to create an alternative to Android and iOS such as the Ubuntu One, FirefoxOS and Windows Mobile. However, none could hold the interest of smartphone manufacturers for whom the big-2 became a matter of habit. However, unlike in the past, Duval didn’t go about reinventing the wheel. His team just removed the spyware. 


A bit about the device itself

The new smartphone has decent specs such as an IPS full-HD+ display, triple rear cameras, and an octa-core MediaTek SoC. On the hardware front, the Murena One gets a dual-SIM with a  6.53-inch full-HD plus display on the device that is powered by an octa-core MediaTek Helio P60 SoC, along with Mali-G72 GPU and 4GB of RAM. It gets 128GB of onboard storage that supports expansion via a microSD card.


What’s the secret sauce?

The Murena One is based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) that does not include either Google apps or its services. However, in this case, the company has ensured that there is an app lounge from where users can download their choice of Android apps, based on the privacy rating that Google has assigned them.

So how did Duval and Co make this happen? They started with LineageOS, which is an Android-based OS that has its roots in the CyanogenMod Android fork that blends in several features from the AOSP source-code.In the /e/OS, most Google services have been removed and replaced with MicroG services. 

MicroG services gets rid of Google’s libraries and replaces them with purely open-source implementations that don’t link back to Google. This includes libraries and apps which provide Google Play, Maps, Geolocation, and Messaging services for Android applications. Duval’s team also replaced Google search with its own meta-search engine on the Murena. 

On top of the OS, the device is virtually Google free when it comes to the web browser, email client, messenger app, calendar and even the contact manager. Even the maps rely on Mozilla Location Service and OpenStreetMap. The company is also reportedly working on making its own version of the Google Assistant known as the Elivia-AI. 


So, are we finally rid of Google?

Not exactly! Because the App Lounge still requires users to login using a Google account. Though Morena creators claim that the Lounge makes the data anonymous, the chances are that Google is snooping away, especially when it comes to payment apps. Which means the umbilical cord remains, albeit thinly attached. 

The device allows users the option to download programs with no Google links. However, since there aren’t many such apps available, those who choose this option may left doing much less with the smartphones than they did previously. 

The Murena One will launch in June in the US, Canada, Europe, UK, and Switzerland at a cost of $369. Will the company consider the Indian markets? We’re not sure as data privacy isn’t exactly on top of our national agenda. 

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