Discover the Freedom Phone, a smartphone for conservatives

It was a pitch suited to a politically polarized audience. Erik Finman, a 22-year-old who claimed to be the world’s youngest Bitcoin mi...


It was a pitch suited to a politically polarized audience. Erik Finman, a 22-year-old who claimed to be the world’s youngest Bitcoin millionaire, posted a video on Twitter for a new kind of smartphone that he said would free Americans from their “big tech overlords”.

His vivid video, released in July, featured upbeat music, American flags, and references to former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Donald J. Trump. Conservative experts peddled Mr. Finman’s Freedom Phone and his video have racked up 1.8 million views. Mr. Finman quickly received thousands of orders for the $ 500 device.

Then came the hard part: building and delivering the phones. First he received Wrong early Comments for a plan to simply put its software on a cheap chinese phone. And then there was the unglamorous work of shipping phones, hiring customer service agents, collecting sales taxes, and negotiating with regulators.

“I feel like I’m pretty much prepared for anything,” he said in a recent interview. “But I guess it’s kind of like how you hope for world peace, in the sense that you don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Even for the most generously funded start-ups, it’s hard to compete with the tech industry giants who have a lethal grip on their markets and are valued in the trillions of dollars. Mr. Finman was part of a growing right-wing tech industry that nevertheless rose to the challenge, relying more on their conservative clients’ disgust for Silicon Valley than on expertise or experience.

There are cloud providers who host right-wing websites, a so-called free speech video site competing with YouTube and at least seven conservative social networks try to compete with Facebook.

Speak, the right-wing social network funded by conservative megadonator Rebekah Mercer, found itself fighting for her life earlier this year after Apple, Google and Amazon withdrawn their services. Another social media company popular with the far right, Gab, fought to gain ground without having its place in the Apple or Google application stores. And Gettr, a social network created by veterans of the Trump administration, has been immediately hacked.

Mr. Finman, who has bleached blonde hair and a chinstrap brown beard, defines himself as an agent of change in both tech and Republican politics. In a freewheeling interview on skewers of lamb at a Turkish restaurant in Manhattan, Mr. Finman weighed in on British politics; cited both Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, and Karl Lagerfeld, the German fashion designer; and explained why he thought the modern Republican Party was “pathetic”. Party leaders complain about Big Tech censorship, he said, but do not do much about it.

In 2014, New York magazine featured Mr. Finman as a 16-year-old from outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who had made his fortune when, a few years earlier, he had spent a $ 1,000 gift from his grandmother on Bitcoin.

In 2017, his fortune exceeded $ 1 million and he was posting pictures of himself online pose with YouTube celebrities, get to and disabled private jets and light $ 100 bills on fire. But he’s sick of the cryptocurrency scene. “I actually hate to talk about Bitcoin,” he said. “It’s like ‘Rolling Stones, play the hits.'”

He got into politics. He said that at the age of 12 he considered himself a libertarian. (It was at a rally for Ron Paul, the former presidential candidate, when someone first spoke to him about Bitcoin.) But his politics changed when Mr. Trump arrived on the scene. national policy. “I drank the Kool-Aid in 2016,” he said.

Over the next several years, Mr Finman said, he became concerned about what he saw as the censorship of conservative voices in Silicon Valley. He also spotted a business opportunity in other Republicans who shared his concerns. So he aimed at the domination of Apple and Google and tried to create a new right-wing smartphone.

“Politics is the new national hobby, baby,” Mr. Finman said. “Even non-political things like a creepy pillow end up getting political,” he added, referring to Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow, who has spread lies about the 2020 election.

To make a smartphone, however, he had to rely on Google. The company’s Android software already works with millions of apps, and Google offers a free, open-source version of the software that developers can modify. So Mr Finman hired engineers to strip him of any sign of Google and load him up with conservative social media and media apps. Then he downloaded the software to phones he bought in China.

Google and Apple declined to comment.

To unveil the phone, he taped an infomercial in which he portrayed tech companies as enemies of the American way. “Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg banned MLK or Abraham Lincoln,” he said in the video. “The course of history would have changed forever. “

At the same time, a series of right-wing figures launched the phone to their supporters. They stood at earn $ 50 for each customer who has used their discount codes.

Thousands of people bought the phone for $ 500. Others, including some conservatives, quickly swept the busy ground. “It’s not a bad instinct,” said Zachary Graves, technology policy scholar at the Lincoln Network, a libertarian think tank. “But when I first saw the video, I was waiting for them to say ‘Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!'”

Quickly, the media reported that the Freedom Phone was based on a low-cost handset from Umidigi, a Chinese manufacturer that had used chips that were found to be vulnerable to hacks. Mr. Finman, who marketed the device as “the best phone in the world,” was on the defensive.

In an interview in July, Mr. Finman admitted that Umidigi made the phone, but still said he was “100%” sure it was more secure than the latest iPhone. Apple has tens of thousands of engineers. Mr. Finman said he employed 15 people in Utah and Idaho.

Mr Finman said he was not surprised by the reviews, but was surprised by the sales. This left him juggling responsibilities he hadn’t foreseen, including certification with the Federal Communications Commission and special rules for shipping devices with lithium batteries. He hired people from his hometown in Idaho to staff a makeshift customer service center and he struggled to sort out sales tax issues.

Within a month of the phone’s release, Mr. Finman had a solution: sell someone else’s phone and act as a brand leader. Much like Mr. Finman’s political inspiration, Mr. Trump, sold Trump steaks and Trump vodka without running a cattle ranch or a distillery, Mr. Finman took on the difficult task of running a business. which manufactures telephones.

“When the going gets tough, bring in the 50+,” Finman said in a recent interview. “Maybe they are the ones who have sleepless nights.”

He partnered with a 13-year-old company in Orem, Utah called ClearCellular, which had previously created a phone disconnected from Apple and Google. The company also had experience in logistics, shipping and customer service.

The companies added American Flag wallpapers and conservative apps to ClearCellular’s device and named it Freedom Phone. Mr. Finman said the phone also has its “PatriApp Store,” although ClearCellular provides technology support for the App Store.

Mr. Finman will get a share, but they won’t say how much.

Reviews of the new phone have not been positive. CNET, the product review site, noted the $ 500 device appeared to be “almost on par with a $ 200 budget Android phone.”

Michael Proper, 46, the founder of ClearCellular, said Mr. Finman is “really building a brand.” Building a telephone company is ambitious, but “not just software, security, hardware, but also supply chain, inventory and capitalization,” he added. Mr. Finman’s strength is to “connect with people within the freedom community.”

Mr Finman said he has ordered around 12,000 Freedom phones, representing sales of around $ 6 million in just over seven weeks. Mr. Finman and Mr. Proper said they have about 8,000 phones left to ship. Mr. Finman declined to connect The New York Times with clients.

Mr. Finman said Mr. Proper “is like my Phil Knight, and the Freedom Phone is like the Jordans,” referring to the Nike co-founder who helped turn Michael Jordan’s shoes into cultural and commercial success. .

The arrangement allowed Mr. Finman to focus less on running a telephone company and more on building a political operation. In a phone interview last week from Washington, where he was meeting with potential investors, he said the Freedom Phone could take on the Liberals in addition to freeing its Big Tech clients.

He said during the election he plans to have the Freedom Phone direct users to nearby polling stations. And he aimed to create a news feed over the phone where he could promote conservative articles.

“I absolutely see it as one of the ultimate political tools,” he said. “Everyone has one in their pocket.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Discover the Freedom Phone, a smartphone for conservatives
Discover the Freedom Phone, a smartphone for conservatives
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