5 Best Private Android Keyboards You Can Trust + 3 Expert Tips

The virtual keyboard on your smartphone collects everything you type. Do you trust it? Are on-screen keyboard apps safe? Is there a private android keyboard?

There are several private Android keyboards. The best alternative keyboards are open-source and transparent in their data handling. Other smartphone keyboards have business models that align with consumer privacy. But, any keyboard can be made private with proper use and data filtering techniques.

Alternative keyboards have been supported by Android since April 2009 and first appeared in Apple’s iOS in September 2014.

Do Android keyboards collect data?

Almost all Android keyboards collect user data. This is necessary to implement many of the familiar productivity features. Some virtual keyboards perform their functions on your device. Other keyboard implementations send some or all of your data to the cloud.

A more-complete answer must include a discussion about what third-party keyboards do with your data. Is it used for advertisement? Is it sold to third-party companies? Is it transmitted and stored with encryption? And how do you control what happens to your keystrokes and swipes?

Best Privacy-Focused Keyboards for Android

A standard marketing term Google and other companies offer is something called incognito mode.

What is incognito mode on a keyboard?

Incognito mode on virtual keyboards limits the software’s recording and learning process. The intent is to provide more privacy when entering passwords or other sensitive data. Most implementations provide no additional security or privacy benefits.

Before you hop into the list, watch this video (5m2s@2x) from The Hated One where he discusses the problems with smartphone keyboards.

1. Microsoft SwiftKey

Initially released in July 2010, SwiftKey was known for its ability to predict upcoming words as the user typed. It was later purchased by Microsoft in February 2016 to tap its artificial intelligence and allow Microsoft to deliver a

more personal computing experiences that anticipate our needs versus responding to our commands…

Harry Shum, Executive Vice President, Microsoft AI and Research Group

Training the AI requires a record of what words a user commonly uses and in what context or order. SwiftKey processes this data on the device and in the cloud.

What is ‘incognito mode’ on the Android keyboard app, SwiftKey?

Incognito mode in SwiftKey pauses the software’s learning algorithm when the user wishes to type sensitive data.

SwiftKey makes it to our list of the best privacy-centric keyboards because it permits the user to turn on incognito mode at will. This provides a slight advantage to other keyboards that only flip to the private mode when a sensitive field or browser tab is being used.

You can activate incognito mode in the settings.

  1. Open SwiftKey from your app drawer
  2. Tap the “Try typing here” area to ensure the keyboard is active
  3. Tap the three-dot overflow menu to show settings
  4. Tap the incognito icon to turn on and off incognito mode
5 best private android keyboards you can trust + 3 expert tips

You should see the ingognito icon in the background of the keyboard keys.

While the incognito mode is on, the keyboard will stop learning from your text entry.

Is it safe to use the SwiftKey keyboard?

Yes, SwiftKey is generally safe to use. Microsoft’s reputation and history of data privacy is a consideration when deciding to use the virtual keyboard. Users can safely use SwiftKey by determining the amount of training information to permit the keyboard to collect.

As reported by Android Authority in July 2016, SwiftKey temporarily suspended it’s cloud-based service when data cross-user data leak into auto-correction suggestions.

Use caution when allowing your data to be stored and synchronized through the cloud.

F-Droid | Google Play | Source Code

2. Google Gboard

Gboard launched for Apple’s iOS in May 2016 and later in for Android in December of the same year.

Does Gboard collect personal data?

Yes, Gboard collects personal data from typed and dictated text. But in June 2017, Google added an incognito mode to pause learning when using a browser’s private mode or when specific apps request the keyboard to change its mode.

Some apps like Signal Messenger will trigger Gboard to switch to incognito mode automatically. In contrast, other apps leave the keyboard in normal learning mode even while entering sensitive information like passwords.

5 best private android keyboards you can trust + 3 expert tips
Signal messenger left, bitmoji password entry right

Does Gboard collect passwords?

It’s not clear if Gboard records passwords when incognito mode is on or off. On their support site, Google describes the process of federated learning.

But as Vice reported in 2020, Google was sued for tracking Chrome browser users who were using incognito mode. It’s not hard to imagine that a similar breach of trust occurs in Gboard.

The good news: In my testing, Gboard functions well when the internet is blocked. Gesture typing, word predictions, text corrections, and text-to-speech dictation continue to provide mostly accurate results. Later I have specific recommendations if you decide to use Gboard.

Is Gboard safe?

Yes, Gboard is a generally safe keyboard option. On Google Android, it is the default keyboard and is highly reliable. On iOS, Gboard is a good option to diversify text entry away from Apple’s own keyboard, QuickType.

Is Gboard better than SwiftKey?

Gboard is better than SwiftKey because many users already use Google’s products. The two keyboards offer similar functionality. Gboard has better voice recognition and tighter integration with Android. SwiftKey is an excellent choice for users who want to diversify their data across companies.

F-Droid | Google Play | Source Code

3. AnysoftKeyboard

AnysoftKeyboard is an open-source Android keyboard released in April 2012, according to the project’s page on GitHub.

The project owner menny is very active along with the 80+ individual programmers. Users and continuers discuss and support the keyboard on Gitter.

While the keyboard does not have an incognito mode, it also does not have access to your smartphone’s internet access. All learned typing data stays on your device.

This virtual keyboard has all of the features of many commercial, proprietary keyboards. You can tweak themes and layouts, switch between multiple languages, and backup/restore your settings.

The settings interface in AnysoftKeyboard is clunky, which could be solved with some reorganization and by implementing of material design standards. At the time of writing, gesture or swipe typing is in beta. The feature is improving with each release.

F-Droid | Google Play | Source Code

4. Flesky

Originally developed as an alternative keyboard for the visually impaired in 2011, Flesky was acquired by the Spanish company Thingthing in July 2017 to continue development.

We purposefully built our technology and algorithms to remain processed locally, and never rely on server-side personal data processing.

Flesky’s Privacy Page

However, Thingthing’s full privacy policy reveals that the UK-registered company has rather broad data collection and sharing rights.

Despite the discrepancy between the keyboard’s stated mission and the company’s privacy policy, Flesky provides user privacy functions like the ability to see and clear your data and opt-out of tracking.

In addition to the privacy focus, Flesky has two unique standout functions. It provides gesture-based corrections and in-keyboard search results.

Gestures include the ability to swipe from various portions of the keyboard. You can quickly delete previous words and update auto-corrected selections. Unfortunately, swipe typing is not available.

Fleskyapps are mini-apps within the keyboard, offering quick results from favorite online services.

If you tap typer, try out Flesky keyboard. The promise to privacy is a welcome perspective over the big tech competition.

F-Droid | Google Play | Source Code

5. Grammarly

Grammarly is primarily a writer’s tool whose premium service includes delivering writing suggestions through their virtual keyboard.

It does not have any privacy settings. For example when I entered text into Signal or an incognito browser tab, suggested replacements appeared on the keyboard presumably delivered by a round trip to the company’s cloud service.

5 best private android keyboards you can trust + 3 expert tips

We included Grammarly keyboard because the company’s business model is incentivized towards keeping writers happy by protecting user data and maintaining its subscriber patronage. Their privacy policy aligns with these data privacy values. In other words: I pay for the product, so my data is not their product.

Although the keyboard works best when connected to the internet, offline, the thesaurus, spelling corrections, and predictive entries work well.

Grammarly has not only corrected many of my writing mistakes but has also made me a better writer. I’m happy to be able to recommend it as an affiliate.

F-Droid | Google Play | Source Code

The Best Possible Combination & My Recommendations

1. Adjust Settings

In whichever keyboard(s) you decide to use, adjust settings that preserve your privacy.

For example, Gboard shares your usage statistics and prediction models to help improve the keyboard. These settings are enabled by default and should be switched off under the advanced settings menu.

5 best private android keyboards you can trust + 3 expert tips

2. Use an App Firewall

An application firewall is software that controls all access to and from internet on an app-by-app basis.

Netguard gives you granular control of when apps can access the internet.

I recommend running NetGuard to prevent your keyboards (and select other apps) from leaking your data to their developers.

5 best private android keyboards you can trust + 3 expert tips

F-Droid | Google Play | Source Code

BONUS: You’ll find that Netguard also increases your smartphone’s battery life 🔋 and lowers your data consumption 📡.

3. Compartmentalize

Switch between keyboards based on your tasks or needs.

  • I use AnySoftKeyboard for most of my tasks because it’s open-source and does not use the phone’s internet connection.
  • I use a Bluetooth physical keyboard (and mouse) for extended and private typing sessions.
  • I use Gboard with blocked internet access for dictating. I also clear Gboard’s storage weekly.
  • I use Grammarly for editing only.

Final Thoughts

Of all the installed software on your mobile device, your keyboard ranks number one in its potential to leak your data and reduce your privacy and security.

Give careful consideration when choosing software that is recording every tapped keystroke, predicted word selection, and voice-to-text conversion.

In this video (5m50s@2x) I demonstrate 2 on-screen keyboards for tapper typists and 2 for virtual keyboards for you gesture/swipe typers.

Mike Chu

Mike is a web developer and content writer living as a digital nomad. With more than 20 years of devops experience, he brings his "programmer with people skills" approach to help explain technology to the average user. Check out his full author bio by clicking here.

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