Alternative app stores for ProtonMail’s Android app

UPDATE Sept 8th, 2019This blog post has been reported in some mainstream media as ProtonMail is considering to “partner with Huawei”. ProtonMail is not partnering with Huawei. We are simply considering allowing ProtonMail to be used by people with Huawei devices. That is very different. A better explanation can be found here.

At ProtonMail, our mission is to make online privacy accessible to as many people as possible. Today, when it comes to Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system, the primary means of application distribution is through the Google Play store. However, for many people around the world, this is either not an option (like in China) or not a great choice for privacy reasons. 

We’ve written and talked a lot about how Google doesn’t respect users’ privacy. From their not-quite-confidential mode to their privacy smokescreen campaign, Google has tried to offer the illusion of choice and privacy without actually delivering these things to their users — all to preserve enormous profits selling user data to advertisers

However, because Google controls Android, and makes their Play store the default app store on Android devices, it is the only option for reaching the majority of the world’s Android users. A similar situation exists with the iOS app store, which is another example of a distribution monopoly. As such, any app developer (ProtonMail included) must first prioritize these two distribution channels in order to reach the largest number of people.

However, it is also important to support other distribution channels to provide users with more choices and advance our vision of accessible privacy. In this post, we will discuss some of the possibilities we are considering and our plans for this area in the future.

Expanding access to privacy

In order to expand access to the privacy tools we develop (currently ProtonMail, ProtonVPN, ProtonCalendar, and eventually ProtonDrive), we plan to publish our apps on a number of alternative app stores for Android. A few possibilities are presently under consideration.

First, we plan to release our apps on F-droid, an open source Android app repository, which is today one of the most popular alternative app stores. In addition to F-droid, we are also considering a few additional app distribution channels, including the Samsung Galaxy Store, the Amazon App store, and the Huawei AppGallery. Samsung and Huawei are, respectively, the largest and second-largest smartphone manufacturers in the world.

Recently, due to an ongoing dispute between the US and China, it is possible that all Huawei devices globally (not just the devices in China) would no longer have access to the Google Play store, making it impossible for Huawei device users to download or update the ProtonMail app. As Huawei devices are especially popular in developing countries where Proton has many users, publishing on the Huawei AppGallery could become essential to continue supporting these user communities.

When we publish on these alternative platforms, we will be providing additional details and information to the community, and we will prioritize according to the impact. There have been past incidents of fake Proton apps published on other distribution platforms, so we encourage users to be vigilant. It is also important to keep in mind that mobile device security is intimately connected to the preloaded operating system, so whether it is Apple, Samsung, Google, or Huawei, regardless of how you download your apps, you are also relying on your device manufacturer to safeguard your privacy.

If you have doubts about whether a Proton app that you see online is legitimate or not, don’t hesitate to get in touch (via our support site or on social media) to ask us. Our mission is to build a better Internet, where everyone has access to privacy and security, and we look forward to making our apps not only easier to use, but also more widely available. 

Best Regards,
The ProtonMail Team

You can get a free secure email account from ProtonMail here.

We also provide a free VPN service to protect your privacy.
ProtonMail and ProtonVPN are funded by community contributions.

If you would like to support our development efforts, you can upgrade to a paid plan or donate. Thank you for your support.

About the Author

Proton Team

Proton was founded by scientists who met at CERN and had the idea that an internet where privacy is the default is essential to preserving freedom. Our team of developers, engineers, and designers from all over the world is working to provide you with secure ways to be in control of your online data.

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18 comments on “Alternative app stores for ProtonMail’s Android app

  • It is about time. Offering a non-google version of your android apps is long overdue. This is something that should have been considered a core requirement for a “privacy” service long before adding additional offerings such as calendar.

  • I highly discourage publishing on Huawei AppGallery, there are evidences that Huawei is under China government control and will send data to mainland China. If users can download from Huawei AppGallery, they may got an illusion of safety, but it is not. As a privacy protector like proton, I think you might have to think twice.

  • I don’t think it’s gonna be a good move. If you are about to be officially distributed by Huawei (in any Chinese appstore), I suppose you will have to have servers and user data in China and, seriously, this is not compliant with keeping users’ data safe and private. Stay away from Chinese government (i.e. Huawei) or forget your “we are here to provide you extra privacy” stance… Even Google would be more acceptable in that case..!

    BTW, I chose ProtonMail for (1) not misusing my data for advertising etc. as Google does and (2) for being solely European company with no direct ties to EU, USA, China or any other over-commercialized environment or even oppressive regime. Please don’t break what makes you kind of unique…

    • Thanks for your feedback, Martin. However, it is not true that we would have to have servers or user data in China. All of our servers are and will remain in Switzerland, solely under Swiss legal jurisdiction. Making our app available to Huawei users through the Huawei store is not fundamentally any different from making it available to them through the Google Play store.

  • Thanks for considering F-droid. I have been waiting for this a long time but I support you taking the time to get everything perfect (e.g. finishing functionalities and educating people)

  • I, for one will be cancelling my paid protonmail & vpn account if you opt to go for money from an authoritarian surveillance state.

    • Thank you for your feedback. We hear our users on this. We’re working on a solution that aligns with our values, and we have not made a final decision.

  • This is excellent news.
    ProtonMail was the only app on my LineageOS which needed to be fetched from Google. (No GApps, so please fix the Play Services dependent push notification problem too ;-) ).

  • Wonderful news!
    I am also using Lineage OS without gapps and I am happy that your app will be available on F-Droid soon!
    Thanks a lot!

  • It’s good to hear ProtonMail will be available on FDroid — it’s something I’ve been waiting on for quite some time! I assume that PM will be removing the Google Play Services dependency from the app in order to get it published?

    Looking forward to having ProtonMail join Tutanota on my Google-less Android phone…!

  • Excellent news! I have a new Huawei phone, not set up to use Google Play store. I very much dislike the negative comments regarding Huawei, they are not responsible for laws made by a government.
    Do you have a date for releasing the Android app on F-droid?

  • Good to hear I won’t need to do hick-ups for getting PM out of the PlayStore an on my SM without Gapps.

    There are some developers around who are looking for an alternative way for Push-Notifications. To name some: NextClouds Talk, several other messengers like Matrix, most probably Diaspora, …

    Wouldn’t it be a good idea to provide some privacy driven infrastructure for those? If the EU wasn’t able to go forward with privacy, maybe a small Not-EU-country in central Europe could :-)

  • In the article above, you wrote:
    “It is also important to keep in mind that mobile device security is intimately connected to the preloaded operating system, so whether it is Apple, Samsung, Google, or Huawei, regardless of how you download your apps, you are also relying on your device manufacturer to safeguard your privacy.”
    This is a critical privacy issue in urgent need of serious action. Every manufacturer of smartphones that I know of (which is only the 4 you mention above) have built invasion of users’ privacy and theft of personal data into the basic operation of their devices. When I bought my Samsung Galaxy S10+ last year, I had a look at Samsung’s privacy policy. I was disgusted and appalled. Basically, it says: “We will collect all the information and data from your use of the phone that we possibly can, use it for whatever purposes we want and give it or sell it to whomever we want”. It is possible to reduce this invasion of privacy – through laborious examination and adjustment of all the app permissions, by using a VPN, and by installing alternative FOSS apps, such as Signal and Firefox, and setting them as the defaults instead of the pre-installed apps – but it is not possible to eliminate it. Even reducing the extent that your own phone invades your privacy requires constant vigilance. Because of the way smartphones are designed, it is not possible to make a phone as secure as a computer. The design of smartphones is the weakest of all the links in our digital privacy and security at the present time.
    We desperately need a phone manufacturer who actually aims to protect our privacy, rather than aiming to spy on us.
    The Protonmail organisation seems to me to be the most likely candidate to take the lead in facilitating the manufacture of private smartphones. I would like to submit my vote for Protonmail to make this a high priority.
    Thank you for all the great work you do for all of us.