“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”
This quote certainly rings true when it comes to Android apps. Those apps collect data — which Google monetizes.
Some of Google’s apps come pre-installed. Others you must install. Either way, these services drain your battery down while siphoning your data onto Google’s servers. Fortunately, users can limit how much data they share with Google (and how much battery drain they incur) by uninstalling or disabling some apps and reconfiguring others.
Can You Disable Every Google Service?
Google makes its money from data. And right now, its biggest money-making scheme revolves around the artificial intelligence technique known as machine learning. Machine learning requires analyzing a lot of data. Specifically, it requires a lot of your data. Without sharing personal information, you interfere with Google’s plans for the future. And they don’t like that.
Google makes it impossible to disable all of their services, unless you’re willing to root your phone and install a custom ROM. However, that path comes with its own bugbears and pitfalls — do so at your own risk.
You can, however, minimize battery drain and privacy concerns caused by Google’s most intrusive services. Let’s take a look at how you can limit the data you share with individual Google apps and services.
Note that Android versions older than Android 5.0 Lollipop may not possess the same software as listed in this article, and things might look slightly different depending on your phone’s manufacturer.
1. Google Play Services (and the Google Play Store)
Many people don’t even realize that their phone runs Google Play services until it needs an update. It’s essentially an app that works entirely in the background, providing the connection to Google that so many other apps need to properly function.
Can Play Services Be Uninstalled?
It can’t be uninstalled unless you possess root access (why doesn’t Android come rooted?). If uninstalled, you can’t install new apps without third party stores like F-Droid (which can actually replace Google) or the Amazon Appstore. While third party stores work great — particularly the open-source F-Droid — their app selection falls way short of Google’s.
If you want to disable Play services, you must go to Settings > Apps and tap on Google Play services. Then choose Disable from the top of the screen. Unfortunately, not all phones can disable Play services.
Can I Limit Play Services?
It’s nearly impossible to use Google Play services and completely avoid sharing personal data. On top of that, there are no configuration settings within Play services that limit data sharing. Each one of Google’s apps must be configured in order to reduce what data you share.
While users can turn off many of Play services’ permissions (what’s an Android permission?), that would negatively impact how your apps perform. In fact, many apps just won’t function after tampering with Play services.
How Do I Reduce Play Services’ Battery Drain?
Out of all of Google’s software, Play services beats on your battery the most. But it’s a two-edged sword. It also gives access to lots of Google’s software and the largest app store on the planet. And while you cannot completely avoid some of the data collected by Google, you can reduce its battery drain.
Users can disable account syncing in order to limit power draw — but that option forces users to use manual syncing. Turning on manual syncing requires the following:
Go to Settings > Accounts. From the Accounts menu, tap on the three horizontal lines in the upper-right corner of the screen. Then uncheck the box for Auto-sync data. From now on, your device will require manually syncing each application.
2. Google Now or the Google App
The Google App is basically Google Search for your phone, though Google has used it to do all sorts of other tasks too. Because of that, it really knows a lot about you.
Can the Google App Be Uninstalled?
On most devices, it cannot be uninstalled without root. However, it can be disabled. To disable the Google App, navigate to Settings > Apps, and choose Google App. Then choose Disable.
Can I Limit How Much Data I Share?
You can limit the data shared by the Google App by launching the app. After launching it, choose the configuration menu (marked by the three horizontal lines at the top left of the screen). Then choose Settings > Accounts & Privacy.
From Accounts & Privacy, you can inspect data tracked by Google. This includes the My Activity option, where you’ll find virtually all of your online activity. Fortunately, you can delete a big chunk of this data.
How Do I Reduce Battery Drain?
If you’re not familiar with the technology, Google Now (revamped as Google Assistant in some newer versions of Android) is the service that creepily pops up information that you didn’t know you needed. Part of its stalker-like ability to keep tabs on its users derives from the huge amount of information Google collects from its customers.
However, aside from the obvious privacy concerns that Google Now presents us (a single service that aggregates everything a massive corporation collected from its users), Google Now can cause battery drain.
To turn off Google Now, launch the app and then press the menu button, denoted by three horizontal lines. After that, go to Settings and then under the Google Now (or Google Assistant) heading, select Settings. Then flip the slider off.
3. Google Maps
Google Maps tracks its users’ location histories even when they aren’t using the Google Maps application. If you don’t want that to happen, there are some steps you can take.
Can It Be Uninstalled?
Most Android devices cannot uninstall Google Maps without root. However, you can disable it by navigating to Settings > Apps and selecting Google Maps. Then choose Disable.
Can I Limit How Much Data I Share?
To turn off Location histories, open the Google Maps app and tap on the menu icon (three horizontal bars) in the upper-left side of the interface. Then select Settings. From the Settings menu, choose Google location settings.
Then, under Location services, choose Google Location History. Turn it off by tapping on the slider on the top-right side of the interface. From now on, Google will no longer track your movements.
How Do I Reduce Google Maps’ Battery Drain?
Google Maps liberally uses GPS, for good reason, although it causes tremendous battery drain — particularly if you just open the app to look around. To enable battery-saving mode for Google Maps, perform the following actions:
Settings > Location > Mode. Then select Battery saving.
The disadvantage of Battery saving mode is its diminished accuracy compared to GPS location tracking. However, the improvement to battery life is noticeable.
4. Google Calendar
If Google Maps tracking you wasn’t creepy enough, Google Calendar knows exactly what you’re doing and when.
Can Google Calendar Be Uninstalled?
Most users can’t uninstall Google Calendar without root. However, you can disable it by going to Settings > Apps > Google Calendar and choosing Disable.
Can I Limit How Much Data It Shares?
You can limit the permissions requested by Google Calendar. Unfortunately, most of the permissions deal with the core functionality of Calendar. Once turned off, the app won’t function as it normally behaves. I’m not aware of any other privacy feature, such as usage statistics, that users can disable.
To access Google Calendar’s permissions, navigate to Settings > Apps > Google Calendar and select Permissions. From within this menu, you can safely disable Phone and Location without causing severe disruptions to the service. However, Contacts and Calendar permissions are integral to Calendar’s functionality.
How Do I Reduce Google Calendar’s Battery Drain?
You can force Google Calendar to use manual syncing. To turn manual syncing on, navigate to Settings > Accounts. From the Accounts menu, choose Google, and tap on the account that you want to modify. Enable manual syncing by tapping on the slider to the right of Calendar.
Once manual syncing is turned on, however, you won’t be able to receive notifications if you haven’t synced recently. It’s also worth noting that Calendar does not contribute significantly to battery drain, so enabling manual syncing won’t give you much additional screen time.
5. Google Photos
If you take a photos regularly, your Google Photos library might contain your face as well as the faces of your friends and family.
Can Google Photos Be Uninstalled?
No, but it can be disabled by going to Settings > Apps > Photos and choosing Disable.
Can I Limit How Much Data It Shares?
If you’ve enabled photo uploading, Google has already indexed (analyzed and possibly identified) everyone’s face that has shown up in your pictures — including strangers who blundered into a photograph.
You can turn off facial recognition by opening the Google Photo app and tapping on the menu icon (three horizontal bars). Then choose Settings. From within the Settings menu, tap on the slider for Face grouping.
However, Google’s data retention policies regarding your already uploaded photos remain ambiguous. You could delete them all, but Google might still retain your information within their databases.
How Do I Reduce Google Photos’ Battery Drain?
You can configure the photo app to only upload pictures while plugged into a power source. You can also prevent it from uploading video and photos while over a cellular connection. Preventing photo uploads while on battery power or cellular data can provide serious battery improvement for shutterbugs.
To turn off uploading over battery power, launch the Photos app and tap on the menu icon (three horizontal bars). Then choose Settings > Back up & sync and scroll down. Tap on the slider for While charging only, Videos, and Photos (which are under the header Cellular data back up).
6. Google Hangouts
Can Hangouts Be Uninstalled?
Google Hangouts can’t be uninstalled on most phones — unless you have root privileges. However, it can be disabled by opening Settings > Apps > Google Hangouts and tapping on Disable.
Can I Limit How Much Data It Shares?
You can turn off the usage statistics collected by Google by opening the Hangouts app and tapping on the three horizontal bars and choosing Settings.
From within the Settings menu, tap on the slider icon on Improve Hangouts.
How Do I Reduce Hangouts’ Battery Drain?
There aren’t many ways to reduce Hangouts’ battery drain, other than to stop using the app.
Some great alternatives to Hangouts include Signal and Telegram. For desktop users, the amazing (and open source) Pidgin can run Hangouts (and Skype) in a single program — without running Hangouts in the background.
7. Google Chrome
As the default web browser on most Android devices, Chrome knows all the websites you visit.
Can Chrome Be Uninstalled?
On most devices, you can’t uninstall Google Chrome without root access. However, you can disable the app by navigating to Settings > Apps > Chrome and choosing Disable.
Can I Limit How Much Data It Collects?
Chrome collects a number of usage statistics. You can opt out of this program by opening the Chrome app, tapping on the three vertical dots at the top-right of the screen, and selecting Settings. From the Settings menu, choose Privacy. Then turn off Usage and crash reports.
You may also want to turn on the “Do Not Track” option. However, you might notice the quotation marks surrounding the option. That’s because sites only voluntarily cease user tracking if this option is turned on. Many sites track users regardless of whether or not the box is checked.
How Do I Reduce Chrome’s Battery Drain?
Whenever you use Chrome, it drains battery. And while Chrome does offer a Battery Saver mode, it sends the contents of images to Google’s servers. The best option, in my opinion, is to just use a different browser. A great alternative is Firefox for mobile. Firefox offers most of the features of Chrome, but without the privacy violations.
For root and non-root users, I suggest using a combination of Greenify and AFWall+ firewall. For those interested in improving their Android device’s battery life, you might want to check out this article on improving Android’s battery life. Out of all the possible tweaks, enabling Aggressive Doze probably provides the greatest improvement to battery life.
How Do You Preserve Your Privacy and Battery Life?
You might notice a common thread: Google doesn’t like users uninstalling their apps. It definitely doesn’t want you to give its apps fewer permissions. However, for those of us who value privacy and battery life, you may want to evaluate at least a few of the apps in Google’s software arsenal.
Does anyone else have serious misgivings about Google’s approach to consumer privacy? Have tips for any other apps or services? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: Neirfy via Shutterstock.com
Originally written by Kannon Yamada on April 16th, 2013.