This New Smartphone Puts You in Control of Your Privacy

It’ll also help you stay anonymous on the web

  • Murena One is powered by the open source /e/OS mobile operating system.
  • A recent study found /e/OS was the only Android fork that doesn’t track its users.
  • Murena One can be ordered online in the US.
Someone walking past a bench looking at a phone with an eyeball staring at them from the sky.

Francesco Carta fotografo / Getty Images

There's some good news if you're bothered by your smartphone keeping tabs on you.

The just-launched Murena One promises to be just as useful as a typical Android phone, without any of its privacy intruding functions. The phone's powered by the open source /e/OS Android fork, which, in a recent study, emerged as the only Android variant that didn't collect and transmit any data about its users. 

"Your online privacy is under attack daily, and we want you to help you do something about it," said Veronika Pozdniakova, Murena's Communications Manager, at the smartphone's live-streamed launch event. "Our goal at Muirena is simple: we want to keep you safe from digital surveillance and help you regain control over your data." 

One Less Headache

Long-term open source entrepreneur Gaël Duval first proposed /e/OS in 2017 as a smartphone OS without Android's privacy-invasive features, some of which were highlighted in a recent Vanderbilt University study.  

While /e/OS has been available as a custom OS for experienced Android users since 2018, it is only now that Murena is rolling out a smartphone with /e/OS pre-installed in the US.

/e/OS is fully compatible with the Android apps ecosystem, but doesn't capture any user logs, app usage, nor does it track user location. It is free from Google Mobile Services, and instead uses open source MicroG services that don't talk to any of Google's servers.

When asked why anyone should use the Murena smartphone, Duval in an email exchange with Lifewire, said it offers people an alternative to having their personal data harvested. "It's just like eating organic food: there is no immediate benefit, but you know it's good for you in the long run," said Duval.

The Murena One ships with a set of default apps, and can run any Android app, which Duval argued was always one of the design goals to ensure people don't have to trade privacy for usability. He also shared his belief that a good product is one that solves a pain point and brings some real tangible benefit over the existing product. 

"I learned something [from] my first venture with Mandrake Linux: you can do the best OS possible, [but] the mainstream adoption will be very limited if it's not compatible with applications users actually use," said Duval. "So, I wanted /e/OS and [the] Murena smartphone to be fully compatible with all mobile applications."

"... we want to keep you safe from digital surveillance and help you regain control over your data." 

Instead of the Play Store, Murena phones ship with the App Lounge, which can get apps from the wider Android ecosystem, including apps from open source web stores, and even progressive web apps.

It also has a privacy score computed after weighing in the app's privacy settings and the kind of information it's collecting and sharing, just like a soon-to-be-introduced feature in Google Play Store. On top of that /e/OS has an Advanced Privacy Dashboard that shows an app's data leakage in real time, along with a summary of any active trackers, and other on-going privacy-invading activities. 

De-Googled Device

Recounting the effort it takes to de-Google Android, Duval said Google has added data capturing features at all stages of the process that kick in as soon as people switch on their smartphones. 

However, despite Murena's efforts, yanking the Google software ecosystem from Android proved to be an impossible challenge, and people will still have to log in with a Google Account to use the App Lounge, though /e/OS asserts it anonymizes all user data, 

Murena has replaced Google Cloud's services with its privacy-respective Murena Cloud that's powered by Nextcloud and OnlyOffice to offer conveniences like email, cloud storage, and an online office suite. 

A mobile phone with a combination-type vault lock on the screen.

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

In terms of hardware, the Murena One is a dual-SIM, 4G LTE smartphone with a 6.5" display and is powered by an eight-core MediaTek processor. It has 4GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, which can be expanded with an SD card. It features a 25-megapixel selfie camera, and three cameras  (5, 8, and 48-megapixel) on the rear.

In addition to Murena One, the company is also working with the Dutch smartphone manufacturer, Fairphone, to ship /e/OS in a couple of its modular, environment-friendly, highly-repairable smartphones. 

"There's quite some common ground in the values of our two organizations: we both strive to bring more ethics to this industry and whether that is about privacy or about longevity and sustainability," observed Eva Gouwens, Fairphone CEO, during the launch event.

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