A phone and American flag.

@erikfinman/Twitter

The ‘Freedom Phone’ that far-right leaders are hawking is a cheap Chinese Android—and a security nightmare

The device is being touted by prominent conservatives as private and secure.

 

Mikael Thalen

Tech

Published Jul 15, 2021   Updated Jul 16, 2021, 7:46 am CDT

Security experts are raising concerns over the “Freedom Phone,” a new device touted by prominent conservatives as both secure and censorship-resistant.

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Unveiled on Wednesday by Erik Finman, the world’s youngest bitcoin millionaire, the $500 Freedom Phone claims to offer a series of robust privacy features as well as an uncensorable app store.

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Finman states the Freedom Phone runs on a custom Android operating system known as “FreedomOS” and provides access to apps such as Parler, the social media service which had previously been banned from app stores in the wake of the Capitol riot.

The phone’s launch also came alongside numerous endorsements from popular right-wing figures such as Jack Posobiec and Candace Owens, who both offered their followers discount codes for the device. It remains unclear whether either individual is receiving financial kickbacks for promoting the Freedom Phone.

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Yet security experts are raising serious questions about the device, noting that the website for the Freedom Phone does not provide any pertinent information regarding its specifications or source code.

Matthew Hickey, co-founder of the cybersecurity firm Hacker House, told the Daily Dot that the Freedom Phone appears to be nothing more than a rebranded Umidigi A9 Pro—a Chinese smartphone that costs as little as $119 on AliExpress.

“This device is a drop-shipped customizable Android-based phone,” Hickey said. “They can be bought and shipped in bulk from Asia with custom logos and branding so as to give the appearance of a phone that has been designed for a unique purpose.”

Hickey added that the phone is notorious for its poor security due largely to its use of processors from MediaTek, a Taiwanese company that provides chips for smartphones.

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“I have never encountered a secure MediaTek device in my entire life,” Hickey said. “Using MediaTek for anything and expecting privacy or security is fundamentally flawed.”

Hickey even stated that MediaTek’s processors are widely used in smartphones throughout North Korea due to their “highly customizable nature and low-security barrier,” which allows the regime to easily implement surveillance backdoors.

The Daily Dot reached out to Freedom Phone to inquire about the device’s specifications but did not receive a reply. Questions about potential security issues also went unanswered.

Other issues surround the Freedom Phone’s app store, known as PatriApp. The company has not explained what protections, if any, have been put in place to ensure that malware is kept from being introduced.

“The Google and Apple app stores implement a rigorous code inspection process before making applications available. And whilst this is not foolproof, it helps prevent a wide range of common malware being loaded onto devices,” Hickey said. “The Freedom Phone offers an app store that promises not to censor apps but has not made it clear how it will perform this vital process while keeping out malware.”

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With almost no information provided about the device from Freedom Phone thus far, major questions still remain. And without access to the operating system’s source code, users won’t know what exactly their phone is doing in the background.

But perhaps they will feel free from the shackles of big tech as they download virus after virus.

Correction: This post originally misstated the type of phone. It is a Umidigi.

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*First Published: Jul 15, 2021, 3:04 pm CDT