(Credit: Freedom Phone)
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.
But it turns out the same smartphone is actually from China, and probably just a cheap knock-off.
The Freedom Phone comes from Erik Finman, who unveiled the device earlier this week. He claims the product has everything Trump supporters could dream of, including an “uncensorable” app store, preinstalled conservative-friendly apps including Parler and Rumble, and even its own anti-surveillance operating system called FreedomOS.
“There’s no app tracking, no keyboard tracking, and no location tracking because I believe in your security,” Finman claimed in a video touting the device.
The product quickly gained support from pro-Trump supporters including political commentator Candace Owens. However, The Daily Beast noticed the Freedom Phone looks strikingly similar to a budget smartphone device from a Chinese vendor called Umidigi.
The device is called the Umidigi A9 pro, and you can actually buy it over on the Chinese e-commerce site AliExpress starting at $119.
Finman later told The Daily Beast that the Freedom Phone was indeed sourced from Umidigi, a company that’s based in Shenzhen, China. That’s not a great look, given the “America First” stance among Pro-Trump supporters.
Hiring a Chinese supplier to build the device is also ironic, since the Freedom Phone promises to be free of Big Tech’s influence and censorship. China has gained a notorious reputation for suppressing online dissent and sponsoring computer hacks to spy on the US government and private sector. The security fears have prompted the US to ban certain Chinese companies, such as Huawei and ZTE, from the US supply chain.
In response, Finman said he had no choice but to source the phone from China. “We designed this between my design lab and our partner in Hong Kong to make a phone that is custom,” he claimed in a tweet on Friday. “Impossible to build phone in the US top to bottom unfortunately. Motorola tried and put billions of dollars into it, as of right now it’s impossible.”
We designed this between my design lab and our partner in Hong Kong to make a phone that is custom.
Impossible to build phone in the US top to bottom unfortunately. Motorola tried and put billions of dollars into it, as of right now it’s impossible:https://t.co/nr1yoeQCrz
— ERIK FINMAN (@erikfinman) July 16, 2021
Finman is right that many consumer electronics, including Apple’s iPhone, are manufactured in China. Nevertheless, he’s also making big promises with the Freedom Phone that don’t add up, especially on the security front.
So far, Finman has yet to release any technical specs for the product. But an uncensorable app store opens the door for hackers and shady developers to circulate malware and data-collecting programs to users. We’re also doubtful Freedom Phone has its own operating system if it can run apps such as Parler and Rumble, in addition to Signal, Telegram and Brave. It’s more likely the phone just uses a custom version of Google’s Android.
But if the phone truly does use a custom OS, then we hope it’s secure. Both Apple and Google spend considerable resources to routinely plug vulnerabilities in iOS and Android. Finman will need to do the same to prevent hackers from exploiting his own software.
The other issue is quality: Do diehard Trump supporters really want an untested phone from a a little-known Chinese manufacturer? At the very least, Finman sees an opportunity to cash in.