Personally, I would agree, I have a real logical problem applying the term “degoogled” to anything using Android. I use Android nonetheless, I picked my poison.
In reality, the questions for me are: Where’s the harm, where’s the fix, how to put it into terms?
Not many will see downloading and using the adb and fastboot commands as a considerable harm. You want to do so, ok, nobody’s stopping you.
AOSP as a base for phone vendors or custom ROM communities to build their Android OSes on is Open Source, no huge problem there apart from Google doing the main work and stewarding it. Don’t like Google involved at this level already? Off to Linux phones or Apple.
But AOSP is not what most users want on their phone, because where’s their Google Mail, their Google Maps, their Google whatever, this AOSP can’t do a thing they’re used to. Google manages to bind users with their well-known Apps and services and has managed that what most users perceive as “Android” necessarily includes these Apps and services, else it’s not considered Android (visible e.g. everytime somebody asks how to get back “to Android” from a custom ROM which is also Android).
And then a smartphone OS needs to make some calls to function as expected. Android calls of course go to Google servers by default.
The Google Apps and services as well as the connections to Google servers are the harm privacy-conscious users are aware of.
The fix is more complicated.
If you look at examples like PinePhone or Librem 5 you get an idea of how incredibly difficult it is to operate completely outside of a well-established technical eco-system and to still somehow make a usable product emulating this eco-system so that people will be willing to use the product. You want to have a smartphone for reasons, so it better behave like a smartphone.
So, what can be done within an existing eco-system perhaps, which is somewhat open to doing your own thing, so that the entry hurdle could be much lower for users?
Getting rid of Google Apps and services is what most Android custom ROMs will easily do out of the box, because they legally can’t preinstall them anyway. Preinstalling Google Apps and services is what phone vendors have to get a Google certification for their stock Android OSes for. Custom ROMs don’t get this certification, and mostly don’t want to.
Because there’s no huge loss, of course, instead this creates some freedom. On most Android custom ROMs you as the user can decide to install Google Apps and services in a capacity of your choice (Google will not stop you), or you just don’t install them at all (but many popular Apps need them and will not work without them).
Getting rid of the server connections is tricky if you don’t want to expose users to a really rocky experience.
Some Android OSes will invest the effort and do this, but they need replacements. So if you want to know what they do, some reading is always required.
One example. Here’s the documentation of what /e/OS is … /e/OS product description - a pro-privacy mobile operating system and cloud services … and here’s which Google connections are still left in /e/OS … Calls to Google servers. Most of the connections are because they include microG in the OS. And they include microG in the OS to have some compatibility with Google-dependent Apps people are used to. Their choice, and so they have a lot of users. But notice how even if they would get rid of microG (and most of their users along with it) there would still be something left to do.
So here we are.
What is “degoogled” and what is not? And if in the Android realm nothing can be degoogled in a pure interpretation of the term, how would you tell users what you are doing when applying certain degoogling steps, especially considering nowadays’ average attention span? Assuming you actually want users, that is.
You as a user can still inform yourself to a degree you are content with. Your choice how far to go down the rabbit hole, but in the Android realm you don’t need to go down awfully far to have an idea of what an Android OS without certain Google elements is and what it’s not.