What is Freedom Phone? For some, it’s the promise of an uncensored online life, far from the power structures erected by Google, Apple, Facebook and other companies. For others, it’s just a $120 Chinese Android phone being resold for $500 to take advantage of tech-savvy conservatives. Let’s try to understand this better.
What is Freedom Phone?
Freedom Phone fits into a context in which famous conservatives claim that social networks like Facebook and Twitter reduce the reach of their posts. These companies would not be afraid of deleting posts from a president – such as Jair Bolsonaro – or even of banning the profile completely, as it was with Donald Trump. So some people try to seek greater “freedom of speech” by resorting to alternative services like Parler and Gettr.
Last Wednesday (14), Freedom Phone started to draw a lot of attention – that’s when Erik Finman started promoting the device on Twitter. He claims to have become a millionaire by buying $1,000 worth of bitcoin in 2012; cryptocurrency has appreciated strongly since then.
“The big tech bigwigs are violating your privacy, censoring your voice, and I think this is very wrong,” says Erik in the promotional video. The answer to all this, of course, is Freedom Phone, which would have these differentials:
- O FreedomOS, operating system that would be “the first based on freedom of expression”;
- O trust, which promises to protect user privacy;
- The PatriApp Store, “uncensored” app store;
- pre-installed apps such as the social network Parler, the conservative TV channels OAN and Newsmax, in addition to the browser Brave, Signal and Telegram.
Does Freedom Phone run LineageOS?
The official website implies that FreedomOS is a new operating system, but the Techblog found several signs indicating that this is a slight modification of LineageOS – free and open source system based on Android.
One of these signs is the camera icon, which appears in the Freedom Phone promotional images – it is identical to what LineageOS uses. This symbol is different from Google Camera, as well as camera apps present in privacy-focused Android distributions (such as GrapheneOS or CalyxOS).
The same goes for other icons: Messages, Calculator, Calendar, Email, Contacts, Files, Music – all are the same symbols used by LineageOS.
There’s even an app, the AudioFX, which is made specifically for this version of Android. It doesn’t appear in Freedom Phone’s promotional images, but it does appear in a video by Anna Khait, a conservative commentator who released the cell phone in a YouTube live:
To compare, these are the LineageOS icons:
Another sign is the trust, listed as one of the differentiators on Freedom Phone. A security feature of the same name was released in LineageOS in 2018, with the goal of improving users’ privacy and security. It lets you know if your system is up to date, makes it easy to turn on encryption, and lets you disable access to new USB devices when your phone is locked (to prevent intrusions).
It’s worth noting that there are some very small differences between “FreedomOS” and LineageOS: for example, the boot screen shows the Freedom Phone logo itself. Other than that, both systems look identical – they don’t even come with Google apps by default, not even the Play Store. (It is possible to add the store during the installation of LineageOS.)
Freedom Phone looks like cheap Chinese cell phone
OK, so Freedom Phone may be running LineageOS – but the system is pretty cool, and it takes current versions of Android to a lot of older phones. Is this device for conservatives perhaps worth the price?
Here’s another problem: Freedom Phone’s official website has ten “Buy Now” buttons, but does not reveal the technical sheet of the device. Why should someone pay $500 for a mysterious cell phone?
Some specifications have been released in a sponsored post on the site Gateway Pundit, but they also lack more detailed information:
- 6.3 inch HD screen
- octa-core processor
- 64GB of memory with expandable storage
- 32 MP rear camera
- “Awesome” front and rear cameras
- 4,150 mAh battery
- USB-C port
- dual-chip (input for two SIM cards)
The problem is that… this technical sheet must be wrong. In Anna Khait’s video, you can see the inscription “48MP AI Camera” on the back of the device, so the camera wouldn’t have 32MP as the list above says:
Twitter users have noticed that the Freedom Phone is terribly similar in design to the Chinese Umidigi’s cell phones. It has two models with the inscription “48MP AI Camera” on the back: the Umidigi A9 Pro and A9 Pro 2021.
They are basically the same smartphone when it comes to design, dimensions, weight, screen (6.3-inch Full-HD+), processor (MediaTek Helio P60) and battery (4,150 mAh):
The difference is that the latest model runs Android 11 and comes only in the 8GB + 128GB version; while last year’s A9 Pro runs Android 10 and starts at 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.
Both the Umidigi A9 Pro and A9 Pro 2021 can be found for around $120 on Alibaba; prices depend on the seller, and are lower for wholesalers to resell.
How will Freedom Phone Store prevent malware?
Okay, some people will pay $500 for a cell phone that could be purchased straight from China for a lot less. But Freedom Phone has the PatriApp Store, which promises not to ban any app. Earlier this year, the Parler social network was removed by Apple and Google from their iPhone and Android stores following the invasion of the US Capitol.
The point is, since we’re talking about Android, (almost) there is always a way to download apps outside of the Play Store. This is the case of Parler itself, which is still banned by Google but can be obtained via APK on the social network’s website.
And if the Freedom Phone store doesn’t prohibit any apps, how will it protect users from malicious software? “Google and Apple stores implement a rigorous code inspection process before making apps available,” cybersecurity expert Matthew Hickey explains to Daily Dot. “And while it’s not foolproof, it helps prevent a wide range of malware from infecting devices.”
One of the selling points for Freedom Phone is to avoid the “tyranny” of giants like Facebook. However, as a video by commentator Candace Owens shows, Facebook and Instagram are available for download on the PatriApp Store:
Freedom Phone earns commission for those who disclose
So, to sum it up, Freedom Phone probably:
- it is a chinese cell phone being resold at a huge profit margin;
- Android-based LineageOS wheel, not a system “based on freedom of expression”;
- has an app store that can represent a security risk of users.
With all that, why buy Freedom Phone? What purpose does it serve? Well, the device may not benefit exactly who buys, but who sells. Many conservative commentators earn money through their own products, such as T-shirts, mugs, food supplements – and possibly a commission on the sale of this cell phone.
Yes, Freedom Phone has an affiliate program. It works like this: they advertise the device to their followers along with a discount code, and receive a commission of up to $50 on each sale made.
Conservative media outlets in the US, such as Gateway Pundit and Just The News, are promoting Freedom Phone and offering a discount coupon; commentators such as Jack Posobiec, Candace Owens and Anna Khait did the same. One of them, Saul Anuzis, even posed in a photo with Erik Finman, who would have started the entire project:
In 2019, Finman launched a startup called CoinBits, which allows you to invest small amounts in bitcoin. More recently, he was investing in Metal Pay, which promised to create an alternative to Facebook’s Libra (now Diem) cryptocurrency. The 22 year old told the Business Insider in June that he is no longer involved with that company.
What happened to Finman – who claims to be a bitcoin millionaire – supporting such a suspicious product like Freedom Phone? Why is he blocking users and hiding dozens of responses on Twitter that point out the problems with this project? O Techblog got in touch but got no response.