Google Push alternatives: Best open source apps for your Android.

Best FOSS apps that do not use Google Push for notifications to protect your privacy.

Person holding black android smartphone
Google is the top spy among all Big Tech companies. So to protect your privacy to the maximum, you need to stop using Google services wherever possible. The most difficult part when quitting Google is if you are using an Android phone as most apps use Google Push notifications. But the number of open source apps refusing to let Google spy on their users is constantly growing. Here is our top nine of FOSS apps that do not use Google Push!

Open source apps (FOSS) are becoming more and more popular - not least because they are much better at protecting your privacy and as they allow you to fully quit Google.

Google's Firebase Cloud Messaging service

However, many open source apps - even if you do not install them via Google Play store - still use Google's Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) service for push notifications. This means that you need to use these apps without push notifications - or go back to allowing Google to spy on you. But what exactly is Google's FCM notification service?

Google describes FCM as "a cross-platform messaging solution that lets you reliably send messages at no cost." This allows for the sending of notifications that new data is available for syncing to a user's device and all it costs is sharing all of this data with Google. FCM is the most popular push notification service in the world, and this is largely due to its device flexibility and low price.

Firebase can be used on both iOS and Android, web clients, and in Flutter. Not only does it allow sending notification messages to single users, but it can also be used for "versatile message targeting" which enables apps to distribute messages out to groups of devices or those which are following or subscribed to certain topics.

Unfortunately, FCM automatically comes with tracking code for analysis purposes so that Google can get lots of information about app users just via push notifications. Beyond this metadata tracking, Firebase Cloud Messaging does not provide solutions for enabling end-to-end encryption which means that these push notifications pose a security risk by possibly leaking sensitive information.

Alternatives to Google Push

The good news is that alternative methods for push notifications are available, namely SSE (Server Sent Events) and WebSockets.

Additionally, a new open source project, UnifiedPush is becoming increasingly popular. UnifiedPush is an open source, private alternative to Google for notifications.

Unified Push is leading the way forward.

Unified push is a "set of specifications and tools that lets the user choose how push notifications are delivered. All in a free and open source way." Unified Push (UP) places the choice of push notification functionality into the hands of the end user by letting them choose which push server they would like to use and in turn which app pushes these notifications on their devices.

When using UP you will need to install a "Distributor" which is an application that receives incoming notifications and distributes them to the specific application, like Tusky or Element-X. These distributors receive notifications from push servers which are listening for incoming notifications from specific services.

The project is building an alternative to Google's push notification service FCM that aims at allowing any app developer to easily offer an alternative open source push notification method for their users.

If you are using services that haven't made the switch to an open source push notification alternative, you can disable app notifications in order to stop using Google's push notification software. This does mean that you will need to manually pull data, but this also frees you of the constant pinging sounds which draw you back to staring at your screen. By pulling data, you are using your machine when you want to, and not when Google pesters you.

For developers there are a number of new open source alternatives which allow you to build in push notifications without sacrificing the privacy of your users. There are even self-hosted push notification services available like Gotify, novu which focuses on open source push notification infrastructure, and ntfy!

Best FOSS apps without Google Push

We at Tuta put a high emphasis on open source software solutions. When preparing the Tuta Mail app for F-Droid, we made sure that it would still come with push notifications.

F-Droid - being an open source Play store alternative - requires all apps to come with zero connections to Google. That is why we implemented an SSE-based push notification service in Tutanota. Thus making sure that Google can not spy on you when you use Tuta to secure your emails, calendars and contacts.

Recommended open source apps

Here are our top nine open source apps that do not rely on Google Push:

1. Tuta - secure email, calendars, and contacts

Tuta is an encrypted email and calendar services that puts your privacy first. All data is encrypted end-to-end, and you can even send end-to-end encrypted emails easily to anybody in the world.

In addition, Tuta does not use Google Push on Android or iOS. In fact, when implementing the push notification service for the calendar, Tutanota even achieve to do this in a zero knowledge way - meaning even notifications are encrypted and the server does not know anything about your events, not even when they are taking place.

If you use the Tuta app, this happens automatically without Google Push. With other apps like Signal and Threema you have to adjust this yourself in the settings.

We explain here how the Tuta calendar encrypts your notifications.

2. Signal - secure messaging

Signal is a free, end-to-end encrypted open source chat app that is increasingly gaining momentum as a private Whatsapp alternative. Signal does not rely on Google Push notifications but uses WebSockets to notify users about new messages on their smartphones.

3. Threema - secure messaging

Threema is another open source and fully encrypted chat app. It excels in the fact that you do not even need to share your phone number when communicating via Threema. Similar to Signal and Tuta, Threema does not rely on Google Push notifications to users' smartphones.

4. Element - open source messaging

Another popular open source messaging and collaboration app is Element. All data is encrypted and push notifications can be send without any connections to Google vai NextPush, for example.

5. Tusky - Mastodon app

The Tusky app is a Mastodon app for Android. To fully get rid of Big Tech, you can switch from Twitter to Mastodon. You will notice that a great number of open source enthusiasts have already switched so there's a pretty nice community on there. With the goal of enabling you to leave Big Tech, Tusky obviously does not use Google Push and now also supports UnifiedPush.

6. Fedilab

FediLab is another Mastodon app that lets you access the Fediverse on mobile. It uses UnifiedPush as an alternative to Google Push.

7. FluffyChat

FluffyChat is an easy-to-use, decentralized matrix messenger. It uses UnifiedPush instead of Google's Firebase Cloud Messaging system.

8. SchildiChat

SchildiChat is a Matrix client based on Element with a more traditional instant messaging experience. Like FediLab and FluffyChat, it uses UnifiedPush for push notifications.

9. FindMyDevice

FindMyDevice is an open source app published on F-Droid that helps you to find your smartphone. For push notifications, it does not use Google, but UnifiedPush as an alternative.

Increasing your privacy on Android

Switching to open source apps that do not use Google Push is a great step in achieving better privacy on Android. In addition, read our tips on how to increase your privacy with these Android security settings.

Google alternatives

Open source apps that do not use Google Push already cover most needs. The ones listed here are just a few examples and many more exist. We recommend that you search the web - and particularly F-Droid - for your favorite FOSS apps. All apps published on the Google alternative F-Droid will not rely on Google Push.

Do check out our recommended services to leave Google and Gmail.

Can I run my Android without Google?

Yes, there are several operating systems that you can install on some Android phones - without any trace of Google software.

The most popular alternatives to Google's Android OS are:

  1. LineageOS
  2. PureOS
  3. /e/OS
  4. GrapheneOS
  5. CalyxOS
  6. Mobian
  7. Plasma Mobile
  8. postmarketOS

What is the best push notifications service for Android?

App developers can choose from a multitude of alternative push notification services for their Android apps and websites.

These services do not only send push notifications about incoming messages, but they can also send mobile push notifications, web push notifications, in-app notifications, as well as email notifications.

Most push notification services are proprietary, meaning that the services can spy on app users when they handle notifications. If information like sender, content preview and more is sent along with the push notification, the service can even read and track this kind of information.

The most commonly used push notification service is Google's Firebase Cloud Messaging service. Others mostly rely on Google's push service. These are:

  • OneSignal
  • LeanPlum
  • Pushbots
  • PushCrew
  • Airship
  • CataPush
  • Push Notifications for WordPress
  • PushAlert

The open source community mainly relies on their own implementation of push notifications, mostly based on SSE (Server Sent Events) or WebSockets. These allow for push notifications with zero tracking and, thus, enable app developers to build great alternatives to Google push services.

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