Freedom Phone: Anatomy of a MAGA scam

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The Next Web 16 July, 2021 - 06:52pm 4 views

Where is the freedom phone made?

$500 'Freedom phone' made in China, cheap rebrand: report - New York Daily News. New York Daily News$500 'Freedom phone' made in China, cheap rebrand: report

What are Freedom phones?

'Freedom Phone' Meant For Trump Supporters Is Also Made By Chinese Vendor. ... A new smartphone is making waves among Trump supporters. This week, a 22-year-old self-described Bitcoin millionaire introduced the Freedom Phone, a $499 device meant to be completely free from “Big Tech's” censorship and influence. PCMag.com'Freedom Phone' Meant For Trump Supporters Is Also Made By Chinese Vendor

The “Freedom Phone” is an overpriced smartphone that doesn’t free you from anything

XDA Developers 17 July, 2021 - 01:11pm

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It’s not every day that a new smartphone company pops up, claiming to offer a device that protects your “freedom of speech” from Big Tech. So, when Erik Finman, a self-proclaimed “Bitcoin millionaire,” announced the Freedom Phone yesterday, it piqued our interest. Finman claims that the Freedom Phone is “the first major pushback on Big Tech companies that attacked us [American conservatives],” and it features an “uncensorable app store” that will offer all the apps that have been banned on mainstream app stores. But is the phone actually all that Finman claims it to be? Let’s find out.

Before we talk about the phone itself, let’s establish some context. During the 2020 US Presidential Election run, Google removed the Parler app from the Play Store for lack of user-generated content moderation. On the other hand, Twitter permanently suspended former US President Donald Trump’s account for tweets that were “in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy.” These two incidents, along with several others, led many right-wing people to believe that big tech companies like Twitter, Google, Facebook, and Amazon were biased against them and were violating their freedom of speech. According to Finman, the Freedom Phone will help users prevent such incidents, and his announcement video specifically mentions the Twitter ban on former US President Donald Trump as an inspiration for making the device.

Now that you know the general idea behind the phone, let’s dissect the device itself. The official website for the Freedom Phone is scarce on details, but it mentions that the phone works with all US domestic and international carriers, comes with pre-loaded conservative sites and apps, and runs a “free-speech first operating system” called FreedomOS (not to be confused with the custom ROM with the same name) that features a privacy tool called “Trust.” The phone is priced at $499, and thanks to the company’s generous affiliate program, many right-wing personalities and influencers in the US are hyping it up.

If alarm bells are already ringing for you, then good, because it gets better from here. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Finman confirmed that the Freedom Phone was manufactured by Umidigi — a Chinese smartphone brand headquartered in Shenzhen. In fact, the phone appears to be identical to the Umidigi A9 Pro, which currently costs just $179.99 on Amazon. We’re not sure if there are any hardware differences between the two phones, as Finman hasn’t shared detailed specifications of the device, and we haven’t got our hands on one.

A hands-on video of the Freedom Phone from right-leaning personality Candace Owens reveals that the so-called “uncensorable app store” seems to be a rebadged Aurora Store. For the unaware, the Aurora Store is an open-source frontend for the Google Play Store, meaning all the apps from the “PatriApp Store” on the Freedom Phone are likely sourced from Google Play. If it is indeed just a rebranded Aurora Store, then Finman’s company has no control over its contents and can’t guarantee that it won’t be “censored.”

Furthermore, ArsTechnica‘s Ron Amadeo found another hands-on video that showed off the phone’s app drawer, revealing many stock apps from LineageOS as well as microG. The “Trust” logo displayed on the Freedom Phone’s website was already suspiciously similar to the one used for the LineageOS Trust feature, but looking at the hands-on video, it’s clear that the phone is indeed running LineageOS. Since it’s unlikely that this company ported LineageOS themselves over to the Umidigi A9 Pro, they may just be using a LineageOS GSI.

Based on the information we’ve seen so far, the Freedom Phone raises too many red flags. It clearly doesn’t offer all the features that Finman claims it does. And the marketing around it only aims to capitalize on the notion that Big Tech is biased against right-wing people in the US, without offering any real solution. Irrespective of whether you believe that Big Tech has it out for you or not, the Freedom Phone is not worth buying. In essence, the phone is just a cheap Chinese phone with LineageOS and the Aurora store on top. For $499, it doesn’t offer enough value in terms of hardware and software. You’d be better off buying a much cheaper phone and flashing LineageOS with or without microG yourself, which will leave you with a decent phone and several hundreds of dollars to enjoy your freedom.

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The "Freedom Phone" that has Trumpers all excited is actually made in China

Boing Boing 17 July, 2021 - 01:11pm

Earlier this week, Trumpers were all excited by news of the Freedom Phone, a $500 "free speech and privacy first focused phone. With features like tracking blockers and an uncensorable app store." Right wing personalities like Candace Owens, Roger Stone, and Ali Alexander all raved about it. Turns out that the Freedom Phone is just a rebranded cheap Chinese-made phone called the Umidigi A9 Pro that you can buy from AliExpress for $120. From the Daily Beast:

Asked to justify the Freedom Phone's notable price increase over the Umidigi model, [creator Erik] Finman claimed vaguely that the Freedom Phone features customized hardware and improved memory. He committed Wednesday to publishing the phone's technical specifications — basic details any company selling a phone should be able to provide. As of Thursday afternoon, however, no technical specifications had been provided to The Daily Beast or added to the Freedom Phone's website.

In an interview, Finman claimed that the Freedom Phone is manufactured in Hong Kong.

"Nothing's manufactured itself in mainland China," Finman said.

According to Umidigi's website, the tech manufacturer's headquarters is located in Shenzhen, a mainland Chinese city near Hong Kong. Umidigi didn't respond to a request for comment.

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Surprise, Erik Finman's 'Freedom Phone' is a scam and a privacy horror

Input 17 July, 2021 - 01:11pm

Not that we'd have expected anything else.

The teaser video for Finman’s phone is so earnest it begins to read as a parody of itself before he’s even shown off the device. “The Big Tech overlords are violating your privacy and censoring your speech and I think that’s so wrong,” Finman narrates. “That’s why I created the Freedom Phone.”

Finman claims the Freedom Phone is truly the best phone in the world. He says it does everything your current phone does — except censor you and spy on you. It runs an operating system called “FreedomOS” and includes an app store called the “PatriApp Store.” (Are we sure this isn’t just a parody video?)

If it wasn’t clear from Finman’s cringey video, the Freedom Phone is a straight-up scam. And one that somehow manages to be worse at keeping your data secure than an average smartphone. Nice.

Cybersecurity expert Matthew Hickey told the Daily Dot that he’s pretty certain the phone in question is an Umidigi A9 Pro, a Chinese smartphone available on AliExpress for $119. Hickey says they’re often bought and shipped in bulk with custom logos to trick consumers into believing they’re specialized devices.

If you couldn’t already guess, a $119 no-name brand smartphone isn’t exactly secure. Hickey says the phone is actually notoriously insecure, thanks to its MediaTek processors. One of MediaTek’s biggest claims to fame is that North Korea loves using their parts for phones due to their “highly customizable nature and low-security barrier.”

The customization Finman has put on his version of the Umidigi — namely FreedomOS and its alternative app store — afford none of the many security protections built by Google in its usual Android operating system. That’s not helpful, either.

But this has not been enough to stop right-wing Extremely Online people from continuing to spread this disinformation about big tech companies. The Freedom Phone provides a supposed solution to the non-existent problem these people fear.

It’s bad enough that Finman and company have created this privacy monstrosity; what’s worse still is that he’ll undoubtedly convince at least a handful of people to buy it. He’s enlisted other well-known conservative voices to help him advertise it. Candace Owens sent out a tweet about it last night... from her iPhone.

Smartphone privacy is undeniably a hot-button issue right now, and for good reason — we’re more aware than ever of the sometimes-invasive data-collection methods of the companies we’re meant to trust. A $119 bootlegged smartphone is not the answer to that complex equation, though. Not even close.

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