Since Freedom Phone’s announcement and launch last Wednesday, promising a product free of Big Tech censorship and surveillance, the company has garnered universal criticism from the left and some criticism from the right (notably Reason Magazine’s notoriously Pro-Big-Tech Robby Soave). Freedom Phone’s Founder Erik Finman agreed to an extensive interview with National File to respond to those who call the venture a “grift” or “scam”.
A.J. Cooke: Let’s just go right for the jugular. There was a lot of positive response to Freedom Phone on Launch Day, but a number of people said that it looks like a grift based on the bare bones website with no technical specs, high price and the apparently paid promotion by conservative influencers. What is your response in general to critics who say that Freedom Phone is a scam or a grift?
Erik Finman: Honestly, I think even if someone could make the perfect phone – and I think we did a good job – it wouldn’t matter to some people. If you make something that’s pro-free-speech or conservative, then they’re gonna hate it. And I wouldn’t say that people who promoted it are in the category of scammers. I remember when the Apple Watch came out they paid celebrities to endorse their 10-figure gold-plated watch… and I’m not paying anybody. Some people are getting referral codes, but I’m not paying anyone out of my pocket.
Cooke: According to your Partners website, promoters can get $50 for each phone sale using their code?
Finman: Absolutely! And anyone can sign up if they want to share it with friends or family. It’s available to anybody.
Cooke: So you mentioned “making a phone” – a lot of people want to know about the design process for the Freedom Phone. Do you have a hardware engineer on staff? Did you use contractors? What was the process?
Finman: Yes, Absolutely. We have a full staff – including hardware engineers – and so basically we worked with a design lab based here in the U.S. that I’ve worked with for past projects. I’ve worked well with them before and told them, “Hey! How about we do a phone?” We were all very excited about the project. Kind of like how Intel will make a design template for a laptop, then manufacturers like Lenovo will take those designs and make tweaks to it… that’s what we did with the phone. We found a design template and swapped out the specs to make sure that’s it’s quality.
We scoured the U.S. for manufacturers – because we wanted to make it here – but came up empty. It was actually really sad. I tweeted out an article about how Motorola spent billions of dollars trying to make a U.S.-manufactured phone and they just couldn’t do it. They ended up closing the factory. It was terrible.
I have a lot of sympathy because of the U.S. laws and regulations that basically make it impossible to make a phone in the United States. Past administrations – and the current administration – have been just really lazy on the China issue…. on being able to have a supply chain that isn’t reliant on Beijing and mainland China.
Finman: So, anyway, we did our research and basically our options were either India, Taiwan or Hong Kong. We went to Taiwan and they couldn’t do it – they have crazy minimum production orders – something like 20 million units. And then we went to India and they’re capable, but they’re not guaranteed to produce the quality we were looking for.
Then we went to Hong Kong – and I have family in Hong Kong – we found an amazing manufacturing partner there. They were also familiar with the template design we were looking for, so they were very good. We also inspected their supply chain with a fine-toothed comb. We were very pleased, very happy and we felt things were secure.
Cooke: So, in your promo video, you allude to the idea that FreedomOS will shield Freedom Phone users from their carriers, from Google and from Big Tech in general. What can you tell us about FreedomOS specifically? Is it based off of open-source Android code? Is it something new? Or is it – as some of your critics have suggested – just a basic Android phone with pre-loaded apps?
Finman: So basically what we did is we took the original open-source version of Android because we wanted Android apps to be able to run on it. That way you don’t have to give up on having access to normal apps. Then we acid-washed all the Google stuff out, Hillary-Clinton-style, which was a dirty job.
In addition to that, there’s a few custom ROM’s that took inspiration and features from… LineageOS, GrapheneOS and others. Then we added our own personal touch after that. I have a really sharp, intelligent CTO.
(Critics are saying that Freedom Phone users are wildly over-paying for a basic, substandard Android phone that comes preinstalled with right-wing-friendly apps. Finman said that his team used freely-available Android code as a foundation to custom-build an operating system that takes advantage of standard Google features but isn’t tainted by “Google stuff” – censorship, spying and control. This sounds ideal from a technical standpoint, but it depends on how much you trust the people doing the work. It’s a “black box” and nobody outside the company knows what’s in it.)
Today I'm announcing the Freedom Phone.
This is the first major pushback on the Big Tech companies that attacked us – for just thinking different.
Complete with it's own Uncensorable App Store & Privacy Features.
— ERIK FINMAN (@erikfinman) July 14, 2021
Cooke: Great answer! So Umidigi – your manufacturer – apparently they have a factory in Shenzhen, which is in mainland China, can you conf…
Finman: We do all of the factory stuff only in Hong Kong. We do nothing in Shenzhen.
Cooke: And you can absolutely confirm that?
Finman: I can absolutely confirm that. That is my personal pledge to you.
Cooke: So the case of the phone looks similar to the Umidigi A9 Pro. Can you confirm that the technical specifications are significantly different from that? Does it use the same processor chip – which has been flagged by tech experts as a risk to security and privacy?
Finman: That chip has a vulnerability and so we use a slightly different chip where that vulnerability got fixed. There’s this meme out there that our chip is vulnerable, but it’s not. We fixed that.
Cooke: So if you’ll forgive me just asking you very bluntly… why did you go ahead with launch without putting direct technical specs on your website so people could check it out?
Finman: I guess that for Launch Day I was more focused on talking about Free Speech and the security features, you know? I guess that there’s a bit of marketing “green”-ness where – I’ll admit – I’m not the best marketer in the world. We’re going to be uploading the specs soon.
There’s also somewhat of a security element of it, which is part of why I’ve been slow on it. I don’t want Cancel Culture to be going after our parts manufacturers. It’s about 50% me being green at marketing and about 50%… well, you know, they really try to bully people and I’ve seen what they’ve done to [companies who work with people like us]. They’ll get hate mobs and they don’t know how to handle it. They can make their lives a living hell.
Note: Erik Finman is 22 years old. He earned fame 3-4 years ago for being a self-made “teenage Bitcoin millionaire” and for creating a “working Dr. Octopus suit” based on the outfit of Marvel Comics’ supervillainous nemesis to Spiderman.
Cooke: Do you have any plans to work with tech expert influencers who are familiar with phone operating systems and hardware… who can do a deep dive into the specs and the phone and the code… then, basically, report to people that the Freedom Phone isn’t a scary black box… that it does in fact acid wash out Google’s spyware? Because a lot of people are going to have trouble just taking your word that this product is legit.
Finman: I think that’s a great idea and we’re going to do it. But also, on the same front, I would also say that Apple isn’t [held to that standard] and I find that annoying. I think that a lot of the [tech] community ends up having a “Redditor” aesthetic to them and you’re never going to make them happy.
It’s kind of a partisan phone and a lot of the things they’re saying – “WE GOT ‘EM!” – is stuff we’ve already debunked online. A lot of them are just lying. It’s – to use a leftist term – “misinformation”. A lot of it is legitimate questioning and curiosity – but a lot of it is just hate because it’s a “conservative phone”.
Cooke: Are you working with Jason Miller or any of the team over at GETTR?
Finman: Nope. Not at the moment.
Cooke: Are you working with or are networked in with anyone on Team Trump?
Cooke: And – pardon me again for being blunt – can you categorically deny that you have ever worked in any way with the FBI, CIA or NSA?
Finman: *laughs* I will categorically deny that 110%. They would have been a lot nicer to me if I was. It’s a pretty cushy life if you’ve got their backing, but it’s one that I don’t want any part of.
Cooke: Let’s assume that this phone is a success. What are your plans in the future? Are you considering a Freedom Phone 2 that is manufactured in the U.S.?
Finman: I mean, still, like I said – Motorola spent billions of dollars trying to make phone manufacturing work in the United States. And, frankly, the only way I think you could be able to manufacture something like that in the United States is through robotics – in a sustainable way.
We’re going to look into that 110%. It’s something I clearly want to do, but I find it ironic how all these people are Tweeting from their mainland-China-made phones criticizing something that’s made in Hong Kong which, in my opinion, is a lot better. It’s ironic that they’re criticizing me from their Shenzen-factory-phones for working with a company that has multiple factories all over the world… and I use the Hong Kong one.
Finman also told National File that, in addition to Parler, they created a simple app for Gab that will be included the Freedom Phone app store.