Privacy and censorship in the digital world have long been a source of concern among conservatives. With Big Tech stepping up its efforts to silence conservative voices and right-leaning Americans are searching for ways to avoid the left’s machinations. However, it is critical that conservatives understand that while they must guard their privacy, they must also watch out for those seeking to exploit people’s worries about their private information.
Last Thursday, a device called the “Freedom Phone” was launched. Erik Finman, a 22-year-old millionaire, claims to have created the product to help patriots “take back control” of their lives from the Big Tech overlords. The phone, which is being sold for $499, is supposed to provide a way for conservatives to rid themselves of Big Tech’s “spying” and “censorship.” It is designed presumably as an alternative to devices that rely on Google, Apple, and other tech companies.
In a tweet, Finman wrote, “This is the first major pushback on the Big Tech companies that attacked us – for just thinking different.”
Today I'm announcing the Freedom Phone.
This is the first major pushback on the Big Tech companies that attacked us – for just thinking different.
Complete with it's own Uncensorable App Store & Privacy Features.
— ERIK FINMAN (@erikfinman) July 14, 2021
Several high-profile conservatives have publicly vouched for the device, claiming that it is the best way to avoid censorship and surveillance being conducted by the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others. Gizmodo reports:
Freedom Phone claims that it can protect users from the data collection that comes with an iOS or Android operating system (it has something called a “FreedomOS”—which, ironically, just appears to be a modified version go Google’s Android OS).
Finman’s phone is ostensibly a way for users to avoid Big Tech’s opposition to conservative viewpoints. It has what it calls an “uncensorable app store,” which is called “PatriApp.” The store will not ban any apps regardless of the content or intent of the technology. Each phone comes with privacy apps like Signal and DuckDuckGo. They are preloaded with apps that are designed to appeal to conservatives: One America News Network, Newsmax, Parler, and Rumble.
Doesn’t sound so bad so far, does it? But a deeper dive reveals that conservatives should tread lightly with this particular product.
For starters, one of the issues lies in the fact that Finman has not provided much in the way of information on the device, its origins, and technical specifications. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Finman confirmed that the phone’s operating system, which is called “Freedom OS,” is based on Google’s Android operating system.
This could cause unforeseen security issues as “custom versions come with risks, since they might not get the latest patches and security updates,” according to CNET.
Matthew Hickey, co-founder of Hacker House and an experienced cyber professional, told Gizmodo that the Freedom Phone appears to be a cheap device possibly sourced from China. In an email, he told Gizmodo:
Based on photographs from the company website a number of Internet sleuths identified that the device has the same form-factor, shape, and appearance of a Umidigi A9 Pro.
The cyber professional continued, explaining that the Umidigi A9 Pro “is a drop-shipped customizable Android-based phone that can be ordered from ASIAPAC region and customized to a project’s requirements.”
He further described how these devices could be “bought and shipped in bulk with custom logos and branding so as to give the appearance of a phone that has been designed for a unique purpose but is actually just a common cheap Android-based smartphone with core components produced in Taiwan and surrounding areas.”
The Tech Times reported that “China has gained a notorious reputation for sponsoring computer hacks and suppressing online posts in order to spy on the US government and US private sectors,” and that the United States banned several Chinese companies due to security concerns.
The device itself is very inexpensive, selling for about $120 on Chinese retail store AliExpress, which is far less than the Freedom Phone’s markup at $499. To put it simply, it appears that Finman is charging almost five times what the device is actually worth.
During his interview with the Daily Beast, Finman confirmed that the device was manufactured by Umidig and claimed it is being manufactured in Hong Kong. “Nothing’s manufactured itself in mainland China.”
However, Umidigi’s website states that its headquarters is located in Shenzhen, a Chinese city close to Hong Kong.
Another area of concern is the fact that the product’s website does not provide any specs regarding the device itself. As of this writing, “there is no information about the phone’s operating system, storage, camera, CPU, or RAM capabilities,” as noted by Gizmodo.
This should raise red flags for any consumer as whenever a new mobile device is introduced to the market, the company always provides the specs. The lack of transparency is problematic, especially when one considers the device’s price tag.
Hickey also told Gizmodo that the Freedom Phone seemed to be using a CPU developed by a Taiwanese company called Mediatek, which is “popular in low-end Android-based devices.” He stated that the CPU is known for being “buggy.”
The cyber professional noted that “historically Mediatek devices have shipped with a wide number of insecure configurations” and that they are susceptible to “trivial vulnerabilities that allows anyone with physical possession of such a device to read/write the data on the phone through its early bootloader.”
Even worse, Hickey explained:
They make phones specifically to permit high customization and as such many of the vendors own software [that] can be used to manipulate the devices, which is why such hardware is popular in countries like North Korea as often the security enabled by a user can simply be circumvented by a state operative.
Gizmodo also notes that there are better ways to protect one’s privacy from Big Tech:
You can wade into the de-Googled phone sector, for instance—where Android phones are sold that have ostensibly been refurbished to rid the devices of code that will “send your personal data” back to the tech giant. There’s also the Linux-based Pinephone, which sells at a fraction of the Freedom Phone’s cost (between $150 and $200), and is a favorite of those in the privacy community.
While the idea of a Freedom Phone might excite those who are concerned about safety, it does not appear that this particular device will give the user what it promises. In its advertisements, it promises that it will prevent data from being given to Big Tech companies. However, it seems to carry its own set of security risks.
Finman’s organization claims that it addresses Big Tech censorship and references Twitter and Facebook’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump from their platforms. However, having a different type of phone will not prevent this from happening to others. Moreover, if their app store allows every type of app, what happens when someone creates software for nefarious purposes? Will the PatriApp still allow them access to their store?
In the end, it does not appear that the Freedom Phone is worth the $499. The consumer may end up grossly overpaying for a device that causes more problems than it is worth.