Brussels / 30 & 31 January 2016


F-Droid: building the private, unblockable app store

your app store does not need to know who you are

Mass surveillance and targeted attacks on mobile devices are getting easier and more common. A great number of mobile apps have been developed to assist users protect their privacy, but little has been done to address the issues facing distribution of the apps themselves. Basically all of the app stores except F-Droid track their users in detail. Meanwhile, we are working to make F-Droid even more private. Google Play is blocked in many countries, and app stores like Play or iTunes often censor to comply with regional law, whether just or not. Regional app stores are often cesspools of malware. In many countries, people exchange apps through web forums, email, bluetooth, SD Cards, or any other method they can figure out, whether safe or not. Effective techniques for circumventing censorship and internet outages exist, and work in many places, but none work in all, and it is very difficult to keep track of them all. This current state requires users, trainers, developers, and organizations to be fluent in many technical details in order to effectively get and distribute mobile apps and media around the world.

In Cuba, people share apps via mesh networks and thumb drives. In Vietnam, swapping apps with Bluetooth is widespread. In China, the internet is ubiquitous but heavily filtered and monitored; but "collateral freedom" techniques have proven effective. Each of these workarounds can also be useful in many other parts of the world so F-Droid is including them all in a unified user experience. All of these distribution methods are included in F-Droid, and we are now working to provide a simple, smooth user experience, with three use cases in mind:

  • The developer is in control of a simple set of commands that automate the entire distribution workflow for making highly secure, reproducible builds then getting them out through all possible channels.

  • Organizations and trainers can use these tools to make curated collections of apps and media use, without getting caught up in the technical details of the whole process.

  • The end user gets a familiar app store experience, regardless of the complexity behind their successful connectivity.

F-Droid is an installable catalogue of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) applications for the Android platform. The client makes it easy to browse, install, and keep track of updates on your device.

Guardian Project creates easy to use secure apps, open-source software libraries, and customized mobile devices that can be used around the world by any person looking to protect their communications and personal data from unjust intrusion, interception and monitoring. Whether your are an average citizen looking to affirm your rights or an activist, journalist or humanitarian organization looking to safeguard your work in this age of perilous global communication, we can help address the threats you face. To help make this software accessible, we run mobile security training in various forms, and create HOWTOs and tutorials for all to learn from.

Author Bio: Hans-Christoph Steiner spends his time making private communications software usable by everyone, designing interactive software with a focus on human perceptual capabilities, building networks with free software, and composing music with computers. With an emphasis on collaboration, he has worked in many forms, including free software for mobile and embedded devices, responsive sound environments, free wireless networks that help build community, musical robots that listen, programming environments allow people to play with math, and a jet-powered fish that you can ride. To further his research, he teaches and works at various media art centers and organizes open, collaborative hacklabs and barcamp conferences. He is currently building encrypted, anonymous communications devices as part of the Guardian Project as well as teaching courses in interaction design and media programming NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program and workshops around the world.


Photo of Hans-Christoph Steiner Hans-Christoph Steiner