MAGA World's 'Freedom Phone' Actually Budget Chinese Phone
Category: News & PoliticsVia: jbb • 2 weeks ago • 53 comments
By: Will Sommer (The Daily Beast)
MAGA Influencers are pushing a phone preloaded with apps like Parler and Rumble that appears to be a vastly more expensive version of a phone made in China.
Updated Jul. 15, 2021 9:15PM ET / Published Jul. 15, 2021 6:37PM ET
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty
The pro-Trump internet went wild on Wednesday for the Freedom Phone, a $500 smartphone that comes stocked with conservative apps and promises to liberate anyone else who buys it from Silicon Valley censorship. The American flag-branded phone was immediately promoted by a wide range of right-wing figures, including former Trump adviser Roger Stone, Jan. 6 rally organizer Ali Alexander, and pundit Dinesh D'Souza.
"I'm holding a freaking phone that is not controlled by Apple or Google," conservative personality Candace Owens told her fans in an Instagram video. "We made the switch immediately."
Despite being lauded by some of the right-wing media's leading figures, though, the Freedom Phone's buyers could be getting less than they expect for its $500 price tag. That's because the Freedom Phone appears to be merely a more expensive rebranding of a budget Chinese phone available elsewhere for a fraction of the Freedom Phone's price.
The Freedom Phone was created by Erik Finman, the self-proclaimed "youngest bitcoin millionaire" and one of Time Magazine's "Most Influential Teens of 2014." In a video announcing the phone, Finman said he was inspired to create the phone after the tech giants' crackdown on both Donald Trump and conservative social media app Parler in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot.
"Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg censored MLK or Abraham Lincoln," Finman said in the video.
Freedom Phone's website is nearly totally devoid of technical information about the device. Finman declares in the promotional video that the Freedom Phone is "comparable to the best smartphones on the market" and "truly is the best phone in the world."
In fact, Freedom Phone appears to be a simple rebranding of a budget phone called the "Umidigi A9 Pro," made by the Chinese tech company Umidigi. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Finman confirmed that the Freedom Phone was manufactured by Umidigi, but couldn't say immediately which Umidigi phone it was based on.
The Freedom Phone's $500 price tag would represent a substantial markup on the Umidigi A9 Pro. That phone is available on Chinese retail giant AliExpress for $120 — less than one quarter of the price of a Freedom Phone.
Asked to justify the Freedom Phone's notable price increase over the Umidigi model, Finman claimed vaguely that the Freedom Phone features customized hardware and improved memory. He committed Wednesday to publishing the phone's technical specifications — basic details any company selling a phone should be able to provide. As of Thursday afternoon, however, no technical specifications had been provided to The Daily Beast or added to the Freedom Phone's website.
In an interview, Finman claimed that the Freedom Phone is manufactured in Hong Kong.
"Nothing's manufactured itself in mainland China," Finman said.
According to Umidigi's website, the tech manufacturer's headquarters is located in Shenzhen, a mainland Chinese city near Hong Kong. Umidigi didn't respond to a request for comment.
The Freedom Phone also comes preloaded with an array of free apps for social media networks Parler and MeWe, would-be YouTube competitor Rumble, and media networks One America News and Newsmax. Popular battle royale shooter Fortnite is also preinstalled on the Freedom Phone— a fact that confused more than one conservative influencer who promoted the product.
It's not clear why a handful of free apps, all of which are currently available in the Google Play app store for other Android devices, would justify the price increase over the Umidigi. Even if the apps were ultimately banned from Google's store in the future, users could still install them on non-Freedom Phone Android phones through a process called "sideloading."
The vagaries of Freedom Phone's actual specifications has produced some awkwardness among the Freedom Phone's legions of conservative influencers. For example, the Freedom Phone's "Freedom OS" operating system is based on Google's Android operating system, according to Finman. But during a livestream video promoting the phone, right-wing activist Anna Khait was confused by her fans' basic questions about the phone.
"Is it an Android?" Khait said. "I'm not really sure. No, it's a Freedom Phone."
While Freedom Phone's founder has failed to include basic details about its device, he did line up a massive ad campaign among conservative influencers. Along with Owens, Stone, D'Souza, and Alexander, the Freedom Phone has also been backed by a number of other figures popular on the right, including Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, journalist John Solomon, and Students for Trump cofounder Ryan Fournier.
Many of the Freedom Phone's prominent endorsers urged their followers to use a promo code to buy the phone, suggesting that the influencers will receive a cut when their fans buy the phone. Each referred sale results in a $50 payment to the influencer who endorsed the phone, according to a website explaining Freedom Phone's "promoters" program.
Freedom Phone's promotional campaign generated attention across Twitter, as conservatives promoted it and critics pointed out its potential technical shortfalls. Finman spoke to The Daily Beast from the Freedom Phone's launch party, right as he realized the phone's name had become a "trending topic" on Twitter.
"Oh shit, this is trending," Finman said. "Wow."