The Freedom Phone was recently announced as an ‘uncensorable’ Android smartphone that takes on big tech. Upon closer inspection, many of its claims don’t seem to hold up. The idea of a smartphone that’s not tied to a major tech giant is a fairly appealing idea, as it could mean avoiding the security and privacy pitfalls that often plague tech giants. There’s been ample talk of companies like Google and Apple having too much control over the tech space, so a phone that claims to be completely divorced from big tech is an idea a lot of people will latch on to.
That’s exactly what’s happened so far with the Freedom Phone. Announced by “youngest Bitcoin millionaire” Erik Finman and promoted by multiple political personalities, the Freedom Phone is described as being “the first major pushback on the Big Tech companies that attacked us – just for thinking different.” The Freedom Phone website claims it has “the first mass-marketable mobile phone operating system based on free speech” and an “uncensorable app store.” It’s a pitch that’s very relevant in 2021, but none of that matters if the Freedom Phone doesn’t actually do what’s being promised.
Let’s start with the claim that the Freedom Phone has “the first mass-marketable mobile phone operating system” that’s based on free speech. As spotted by reporter Ron Amadeo, a hands-on video of the Freedom Phone reveals some of the apps that come pre-installed on it. As it would turn out, many of these apps are identical to those installed on LineageOS. LineageOS is a popular open-source operating system based on Android. It first came out in 2016 and is often installed on smartphones and tablets to add additional controls and features that Android doesn’t include by default. LineageOS is a fantastic piece of software, but if the Freedom Phone runs LineageOS by default, the claim that the Freedom Phone is using a one-of-a-kind ‘free speech’ operating system doesn’t hold water.
The Freedom Phone’s App Store Also Isn’t What It Seems
Then there’s the promise of the Freedom Phone featuring an “uncensorable app store” that the Freedom Phone team built itself. Once again, it’s nothing but smoke and mirrors. Political commentator Candace Owens shared a hands-on video of the Freedom Phone, and in her clip, the app store is on full display. Android expert Mishaal Rahman of XDA Developers points out that the Freedom Phone’s app store is really just the Aurora Store — an open-source application storefront that sources its apps from the Google Play Store. Outside of a different accent color, the Freedom Phone’s app store has the exact same layout and interface as the Aurora Store. That means the people behind Freedom Phone likely have no say in which apps are or aren’t available on the storefront.
Last but certainly not least, there’s the matter of data tracking. Finman claims the Freedom Phone doesn’t have app tracking, keyboard tracking, or location tracking. This may be true for pre-installed apps on the Freedom Phone, but that likely has zero impact on ones downloaded from the app store. There’s evidence that apps like Facebook, Google Photos, and YouTube are available for the device. If those are downloaded and used on the Freedom Phone, they’re going to work just like they do on any Android phone. Many third-party apps require permissions in order to function as intended. Whether it be Facebook, Snapchat, Google Calendar, or anything else, all of the normal tracking they do at their core is going to continue on the Freedom Phone. Unless all of these apps have been rewritten specifically for the Freedom Phone — which they haven’t been — don’t expect all forms of data harvesting/tracking to magically disappear just like that.
There’s no denying that the Freedom Phone was built to cater to individuals who see “big tech” as a threat to their rights and personal freedoms, but it’s looking more and more like this device is making a lot of promises it can’t keep. It’s not running some special, exclusive operating system, it doesn’t have an ‘uncensored’ app store, and data tracking from Facebook, Google, and other apps isn’t likely to change. Adding all of that together with the fact that the Freedom Phone’s hardware appears to be nothing more than a $190 smartphone from Chinese brand Umidigi (confirmed by Daily Beast), and it’s hard to make an argument in favor of spending $499 for it. That’s not to say there isn’t a market for a privacy-conscious smartphone, but based on all of the evidence, this just isn’t it.