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Is Freedom Phone the Trump University of Mobile Devices?

It appears that Erik Finman has been paying attention to the examples being set by a certain former president on how to run a successful business.

Forget about building a better mousetrap. Wave a big enough U.S. flag, yell “freedom” loud enough, and the MAGA crowd will beat a path to your door.

That’s the theory, anyway.

I’m not so sure how well it’s working out for Erik Finman, a guy who claims he’s the world’s youngest Bitcoin millionaire, but he’s been been pushing that theory to the limits. He has a website with a hugely big flag that doesn’t quite fill the screen on the homepage, but it seems like it does because it’s animated to wave in the wind with what I suppose he thinks will be a wow-factor for an audience that likes shiny objects.

Oh, and as for hollering “freedom,” the site’s purpose is to sell a product called Freedom Phone.

When freedom rings, will you answer?

Cheapness at the Cost of Premium

Finman indicates that his freedom and privacy loving phone is selling like hotcakes. That may be; I don’t know and I don’t care. What I do know is that while the world may or may not be beating a path to his door, the phone he’s offering for $499 isn’t anything close to being a better mousetrap.

What it is, according to at least a half dozen tech journalists who’ve looked into this, is a rebranded Umidigi A9 Pro, made by China-based Umidigi, a smartphone maker with a reputation of not honoring its warranties.

It’s also not a top-of-the-line phone, which you might think considering the price. You can get them from the factory for about $120 apiece, maybe less, depending on how many you want. I understand that if you buy enough of them, Umidigi is happy to customize them, and ship them with custom logos and branding already in place. And since the manufacturer is already going to have to throw its own operating system image on them, I’m sure they’d be happy to let you use your own customized OS image instead.

When the phone was first offered for sale last summer, Finman explained that it’s freedom loving because it’ll let you install all of the apps for the alt-right news sites that both Google and Apple have kicked out of their app stores, such as One American News Network, Parler, and I guess others. It’s hard to determine exactly what’s preinstalled or otherwise available for the phone, however. When I tried to take a looksee at Freedom Phone’s “uncancellable app store” called PatriApp, it didn’t offer a look at what’s available, just links for downloading the PatriApp app at Google and Apple.

Privacy is a whole ‘nother ballgame. While the phone comes with a whole bunch of privacy apps preinstalled, such as Signal, DuckDuckGo, and Brave Browser, you may not be running the software you think you’re running.

Take Signal, for instance. On Saturday, Matthew Garrett revealed in an article on his blog that with Freedom Phone, whether you’re running Signal or not might depend on what your definition of “Signal” is.

“What’s shipped is not the version available from the Signal website or any official app store – instead it’s this fork called ‘ClearSignal,'” he said.

Clear would be a reference to Clear United, the company behind ClearOS, which is what Freedom Phone has run since it dropped something called FreedomOS, which it initially used.

“The first thing to note about ClearSignal is that the privacy policy link from that page ‘404s’, which is not a great start,” Garrett added. “The second thing is that it has a version number of 5.8.14, which is strange because upstream went from 5.8.10 to 5.9.0. The third is that, despite Signal being GPL 3, there’s no source code available. So, I grabbed jadx and started looking for differences between ClearSignal and the upstream 5.8.10 release. The results were, uh, surprising.”

It only goes downhill from there. I’m not going to go into all of the details of the problems Garrett discovered. He wrote an excellent article, which I figure he didn’t write so that I could steal it by paraphrase, so I’m just going to suggest that you read it here.

I’m even suggesting that you read it even if you don’t give a mouse’s behind about Freedom Phone. I couldn’t have cared less about Freedom Phone when I read the article on Sunday either, and I still couldn’t have cared less after I read it. Garrett’s detective work and what he discovered, however, was fascinating, especially given what the world’s youngest cybersecurity millionaire wants you to think, which I think is that he’s a stable genius.

11 Comments

  1. Friar Tux Friar Tux April 18, 2022

    Quite the irony, here, for our American friends. “Freedom” phone that was “Made In China”. Given America’s angst for Chinese products, I’m surprised Mr. Finman can even sell one. But, we ARE a fickle folk…

  2. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | April 18, 2022

    We Yanks are nothing if not ironic, intentional or not. 😉

  3. John John April 18, 2022

    So, an article about the issues with the phone is fine. Bringing unrelated political rants is unprofessional. I mean, if this were a political publication I get that. Leave that garbage out. There shouldn’t be any rants about Obama, Trump, or Biden. The whole world doesn’t need to get doses of your, in this case, left philosophy. Same if you were right. We get enough of that in political and world news

  4. R J R J April 18, 2022

    How old is the author of this article?
    Another progressive teenager pretending to know it all?
    Keep your uneducated biased political garbage out of your half-educated articles if you want to be taken seriously.

    Oh, and for those who are whining about being made in China, have you checked your smart phone, you know, those iPhones you drool over? They are all made in China, so grow up. Your hypocrisy is showing.

  5. R J R J April 18, 2022

    And like a typical leftist mob, you get triggered by the display of the US flag.
    Pathetic does not even start to describe you.

  6. James James April 19, 2022

    “Bringing unrelated political rants is unprofessional. I mean, if this were a political publication I get that. Leave that garbage out. There shouldn’t be any rants about Obama, Trump, or Biden. The whole world doesn’t need to get doses of your, in this case, left philosophy. Same if you were right. We get enough of that in political and world news.”

    I agree with John, why make this political? We all know tech is very liberal. I have seen people banned from tech sites for way less.
    Fossforce is now banned on my computers.

  7. FDK FDK April 19, 2022

    What does Trump have to do with a phone? Are you just trying to be click-bait? Be professional and evaluate the phone on it’s own merits, or lack there of, and not make a political soup of unrelated ideas, issues, and items

  8. Stylee Stylee April 19, 2022

    Next article compare Mozilla’s inclusion (aka exclusion) policies to Hitler’s policies. Show us you are capable of being fair and balanced.

  9. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | April 19, 2022

    RJ, if you would look at the bio box at the bottom of the article you would see that I have been practicing journalism since 1971 and covering open source since 2002, so no, I am not “another progressive teenager pretending to know it all.”

    Trump and politics are a valid part of any discussion about Freedom Phone, because the company’s founder makes it clear that his product is aimed at Trump supporters. You will notice, that practically every article that’s been written about this phone makes that connection.

  10. Adrian P. Adrian P. April 19, 2022

    If you want to go that route, address Mozilla’s HR policies and how the policues led to Mozilla becoming a laughing stock (colors as a key new feature?) and their creation of their own future demise: Brave.

    But, prefer for you to keep politics out of things. Just because Freedom Phone goes low doesn’t mean you have to go lower.

  11. R J R J April 20, 2022

    @Christine.
    You may be “practicing journalism since 1971 and covering open source since 2002”, but sure have act like a progressive teenager pretending to know it all.

    “because the company’s founder makes it clear that his product is aimed at Trump supporters.”

    Where exactly does he state that?
    That is certainly a lie.
    Is that what you call journalism?
    Blatantly lying?
    The only mention of Trump is in his video posted on his site, in the context of censorship.
    He said big tech censored a sitting president, and if they censored president Trump they can do that to anyone.
    And he is absolutely right.
    You don’t have to be a Trump supporter to be worried about censorship.
    But then, in addition to lying, you injected your politics into this.
    That makes you lacking credibility, and stuff like this are just click-bait articles.
    Admit it, like the rest of the leftist mob, you got triggered by that big US flag on his site.
    At least be honest about your intentions and politics.
    Shame how people like you dragged the name of once a noble profession, journalism, and turned it into a laughing stock.

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