Freedom Phone: Why you should avoid it and what else to know

The Freedom Phone is a brand new “free speech and privacy first” handset unveiled final week that is elevating crimson flags with journalists and safety specialists who say it’s only a rebranded price range Chinese Android cellphone. 

Freedom Phone; screenshot by Carrie Mihalcik/CNET

Most of us have an “it’s complicated” relationship with our telephones when it comes to privateness and social media. A brand new handset known as the Freedom Phone promises to prioritize “free speech and privacy” above something else. You would possibly assume that the Freedom Phone follows the pattern of phone-makers like Apple making it harder for your data to be shared unwillingly, and for firms to monitor you. The website for the Freedom Phone, which has no fewer than 10 “buy” buttons, states, “Not just making America great. But also making a great phone.” Clearly the Freedom Phone is saturated in politics.

If you’re in search of a cellphone that protects your privateness, look someplace else. The Freedom Phone has loads of crimson flags. 

In a launch video, self-proclaimed “bitcoin millionaire” Erik Finman, who’s funding the cellphone, claims that Freedom OS protects your privateness and has an “uncensorable” app retailer. The PatriApp retailer claims to characteristic apps banned by “Big Tech.” In the video, Finman reveals off a cellphone that’s powered off and seems comparable to a budget Chinese phone that sells for one-quarter of the Freedom Phone’s $500 worth. He does not share fundamental specs or technical particulars in regards to the cellphone — like if it works on the quicker 5G information networks each US provider is rolling out.

Read extra: 5G myths, debunked

The Freedom Phone and its politically conservative branding will enchantment to many. But there may be nothing to recommend that the cellphone, its privateness claims or avoidance of “Big Tech” work the best way Finman suggests. Since the announcement, numerous publications and privacy experts have raised questions and security concerns in regards to the cellphone and whether or not Finman is being totally forthright with potential consumers.

The truth the cellphone is already out there to order — and that there are extra buy buttons on the web site than cellphone {hardware} specs describing the cellphone’s capabilities — are all crimson flags. The cellphone is marketed totally on its politically conservative branding and looks like nothing greater than a savvy entrepreneur trying to make cash from conservatives pissed off with Facebook and Twitter banning former President Donald Trump. I contacted Freedom Phone and Finman for remark and to get extra details about the cellphone. 

I additionally ordered a Freedom Phone for testing, however do not advocate you buy it right now.

What is the Freedom Phone?

It’s a brand new cellphone that guarantees to defend your privateness and permit free speech with out censorship throughout the system. In his promotional video, Finman says that the Freedom Phone “does everything your current phone does except censor you or spy on you.” He says it’s comparable to one of the best smartphones in the marketplace. He goes on to state that everybody is complaining about “Big Tech censorship” however nobody is doing something about it. On display screen within the video, a generic tweet is proven that is dated Dec. 18 and attributed to Twitter person “@twitteruser” that reads, “BUILD YOUR OWN PHONE!” To which Finman replies, “So, I did.” The Twitter account shown is a real address whose final put up is dated Nov. 5, 2013. 

Does the Freedom Phone really work?

We do not know. In the launch video, the cellphone stays powered off all the time. That might point out that the software program is not prepared for viewing. We requested Freedom Phone for extra particulars.

Why is the Freedom Phone controversial?

Any time a handset vendor makes claims a few cellphone’s options, it falls to the corporate to exhibit and clarify how these options work. The Freedom Phone’s web site, launch video and Finman’s posts on Twitter give few particulars in regards to the cellphone or how its protections work. The absence of technical particulars and the truth that the corporate is already accepting cash for preorders heightens our skepticism that the corporate shall be in a position to meet these orders in addition to its lofty privateness claims.

How a lot does the Freedom Phone price?

It’s listed at $500. That’s the identical worth as a Galaxy A52 5G, a Google Pixel 4A 5G and an iPhone XR.

Read extra: The best phones under $500 in 2021

Is the Freedom Phone only a rebranded $120 Chinese Android cellphone?

The Freedom Phone has the tagline: “Made for conservatives by conservatives.” Turns out it’s really made by a Chinese firm known as Umidigi that is based mostly in Shenzhen City. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Finman confirmed that Umidigi made the Freedom Phone however did not specify which Umidigi cellphone design is used.

Matthew Hickey, a cybersecurity knowledgeable who co-founded Hacker House, informed the Daily Dot that the Freedom Phone is a Chinese cellphone known as the Umidigi A9 Pro that may be purchased from AliExpress for as little as $119. He stated that the A9 Pro is bought in bulk with customized logos and branding.

In a tweet, Finman wrote, “We designed this between my design lab and our partner in Hong Kong to make a phone that is custom.”

Should I buy a Freedom Phone?

No. Even if all of Finman’s claims in regards to the Freedom Phone end up to be true, it’s greatest to wait till units can be found to take a look at the corporate’s claims.

Is the Freedom Phone a rip-off?

Finman hasn’t defined how the cellphone works, or how it protects your privateness or free speech. Despite the claims to this point, the Freedom Phone’s fundamental technical and software program particulars are absent, which provides clients little or no to go on. While I am unable to outright name it a rip-off, I might strategy this handset with warning till it’s out there for testing. 

What makes the Freedom Phone safe?

Finman says that the cellphone will not monitor your apps, your keystrokes or your location, however he does not clarify how. The cellphone’s Freedom OS has a safety privateness guard known as Trust.

“With powerful tools such as Trust, you are in control of what your apps can do whenever you want. Trust will help you understand the security of your device and warn you about possible threats.”

We have by no means heard of Trust. It could be one thing Finman’s staff developed. Again, there are no particulars on how it works or the place it got here from. It is not clear if Freedom OS is predicated on Android. And only a reminder that “Big Tech” firm Google makes Android.

Google steadily updates Android with software program upgrades and safety patches which this cellphone doubtless would not get.

What makes the Freedom Phone ‘uncensorable’?

The web site says the Freedom Phone has an “uncensorable” PatriApp retailer providing apps banned by the Google Play retailer and iOS App retailer. What’s unclear is that if there are insurance policies within the PatriApp retailer that defend towards illicit felony exercise, hate speech, graphic and sexual materials or pedophilia. Is the PatriApp retailer mainly just like the 4chan of app shops?

It additionally is not clear how the cellphone would deal with technical particulars like IP tracing, web site cookies or different typical monitoring instruments used on telephones and different digital units. We do not know if the Freedom Phone has obtained clearance from the FCC.

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What carriers does the Freedom Phone work on?

The Freedom Phone website states it will work with “Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile & Sprint, and all other domestic and international carriers.” Listing Sprint is curious because, in 2020, T-Mobile officially closed its $26.5 billion merger with Sprint.

How does the Freedom Phone protect against carrier tracking?

It’s unclear, and the issue isn’t addressed on the Freedom Phone website.

If the Freedom Phone avoids ‘Big Tech’, why does it work on all of the major US carriers?

This is also unclear. In Finman’s promo video, “Big Tech” is largely used in the context of Twitter and Facebook banning former President Trump after he used his accounts to whip up a mob that invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6.

When can you order a Freedom Phone?

The Freedom Phone is available to preorder now. We strongly recommend you don’t order it.

When does the Freedom Phone ship?

Units of the phone are said to arrive in August.

Where can you buy a Freedom Phone?

At this time, only on the Freedom Phone website.

What apps does the Freedom Phone run?

The website shows icons for Parler, NewsMax, OANN, Rumble, the DuckDuckGo web browser and Telegram encrypted messaging. But it’s unclear if it will be able to run productivity apps like Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat, social media apps like TikTok or Snapchat, dating apps like Tinder or Grindr, or video games.

What are the specs for the Freedom Phone?

It has a 6-inch screen that Finman says is edge-to-edge. In the video, he never shows the display powered on running Freedom OS. Photos show a dual-SIM card tray with a spot for expandable storage. Aside from Finman saying things like “great camera,” “comparable to the best smartphones on the market” and a “super fast processor,” the specs are unknown.

Is the Freedom Phone ‘comparable to the best smartphones’ as Finman claims?

We have strong doubts. The design shown in the video looks like dozens of budget Android phones we’ve seen over the years. It doesn’t look high-end. The screen has a teardrop cutout for the selfie camera, which is a design choice many Android phones had three years ago.

Who owns Freedom Phone?

According to its website, Freedom Phone is owned by Finman, LLC in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Eric Finman is listed as the company’s agent and organizer.

Who is Freedom Phone’s billionaire founder Erik Finman?

Finman grew up in Idaho. In 2013, at the age of 14 he allegedly bought 100 Bitcoin ($1,000) which, by the time he was 20, was worth more than a million dollars. In 2017, he founded the education startup, Botangle. In 2019, he invested in a cryptocurrency company called Metal Pay to be a competitor against Facebook’s upcoming Libra cryptocurrency (now called Diem).

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