Free speech, privacy, and freedom to read or watch what you want is important. We should know, we’ve spent years helping censored content creators get their content to the people who want to watch it. But the problem of tech privacy and security is a big one that requires responsibility on the part of individuals and on the part of suppliers. This is the main issue we take with Freedom Phone – it’s tapping into a real, urgent need, then providing a non-solution that insults its users while taking their money. Read on for our comparison of Freedom Phone vs Rogue Phone.
Freedom Phone hardware doesn’t meet the security requirements of a teenager
We didn’t say it, Nicholas Weaver, a computer security researcher at the International Computer Science Institute said it in a March Slate article. He recommends that if you own an Android phone other than a Google Pixel or Google Nexus, to go ahead and toss your phone in the trash. “Most Android phones don’t meet the security requirements of a teenager,” he says. But that’s not exactly a secret. These phones have long been criticized for slow updates and out-of-date software that makes users vulnerable to a whole host of publicized security flaws.
The much-marketed Freedom phone is built on one of these non-secure Android phones, though they don’t make transparent which one. The going understanding (which Finman reportedly confirmed) is that it’s built on a bulk-purchased Chinese android phone called the Umidigi A9 Pro, purchasable from Alibaba for $118 to $135 per phone. While Finman claims that Freedom Phone is comparable to the best smartphones, its hardware doesn’t come close to premium phones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra or iPhone 12 Pro Max. On paper, it doesn’t even seem comparable to the best budget phones.
Rogue Phone is built on one of the most secure hardware packages on the market.
Google Pixel phone hardware meets stringent privacy and security standards and provides a well-built baseline on which to work. You see, hardware, firmware, and software specific to devices (like drivers), play a huge role in the overall security of a device. Meanwhile, manufacturing a high-quality phone is a big undertaking (which is the failing of so many other security-respecting phones). We utilize Google Pixel phones because they’re well made and have uniquely strong security features available on which to build. Yea, we know… it’s Google. But compromising on quality and security just because of a name is not part of our business.
The Operating System.
Freedom Phone Operating System is a black box that hasn’t been updated in years.
In fact, Finman (the Freedom Phone Founder) knows it and has said that he’s in the process of switching from an operating system that was woefully out of date (FreedomOS) to ClearOS. At this point, it’s not clear whether the models of Freedom Phone that have already shipped will be upgraded from the outdated operating system to the new operating system or if the Freedom Phone will support both FreedomOS and ClearOS moving forward. Either way, the fact that he is releasing an entirely new version of the Freedom Phone just months after the initial one shipped isn’t a good sign.
Along with CNET author, Carrie Mihalchik, we have to ask if the original phone and OS was supposed to be robust, what makes the new OS have stronger security and privacy features? As Mihalchik points out, Finman hasn’t explained how the phone works, or how it protects your privacy or free speech. Despite the claims so far, the Freedom Phone’s basic technical details don’t match the claims its founder has made about it being comparable to the best phone on the market.
While ClearOS is open source, which is something we strongly support for enhanced security, their company and products are mobile-last. ClearOS is primarily a Linux-based server operating system, with spinoffs for desktop computers. Their mobile (Android-based) operating system has not even been released to the public yet. This is major red flag not only because it has never been tested or used across the spectrum of mobile phones they claim to support, but as it is the smallest part of their business, it will inevitably get the least attention.
Rogue Phone is Built on the well-respected Privacy-and-Security First, Grapheneos
We only use official releases of the open source mobile operating system GrapheneOS. The GrapheneOS Operating System improves the privacy and security of the operating system from the bottom up. It deploys technologies to mitigate whole classes of vulnerabilities and makes exploiting the most common sources of vulnerabilities substantially more difficult. It improves the security of both the operating system and the apps running on it. It includes a seamless automatic OS update system that just works and stays out of the way in the background without disrupting device usage. But most importantly, it has a significant track record of high security standards and this mobile operating system is their only project.
Here’s why we use and trust the GrapheneOS project:
- Collaborative, open source project with a very active community and contributors
- Non-profit projects avoiding conflicts of interest by keeping commercialization at a distance.
- Strong privacy policies across all their software and services
- Proven track record of the team standing up against attempts to compromise the integrity of the project and placing it above personal gain
- Consistent and frequent updates and new features added to ensure security and operability.
Here are the features the GrapheneOS system adds to make your Rogue Phone for security and privaty:
- A stronger app sandbox: This means that apps run in an isolated location on your phone. They don’t share information with other apps or communicate outside your phone without approved permissions.
- Vanadium – your default and privacy-respecting browser. Vanadium (custom-built by the developers of GrapheneOS) is also a hardened WebView. What is a WebView? The WebView is what most other apps use to handle web content, so this secures your browsing experience on Rogue Phone and also secures many of the apps you’ll use day-to-day.
- Hardware-based security verification and monitoring – this is an auditor service that ensures your operating system has never been tampered with our added to – not by us, not by anyone.
- Seamless automatic update system that just works and stays out of the way in the background without disrupting device usage.
- Minimal bundled apps and services. Only essential apps are integrated into the OS. GrapheneOS doesn’t make partnerships with apps and services to bundle them into the OS. Rogue Phone’s approach will be recommending certain apps during the initial setup, not hard-wiring them into the OS.
- No Google apps and services built-in. Building privileged support for Google services into the OS isn’t something GrapheneOS is going to be doing.
- And more… for the full (and somewhat technical list, see the GrapheneOS Feature List)
Freedom Phone is at best worringly vague and at worst, misleading potential customers
In its short history, the Freedom phone has already come under suspicion for misleading its customers. The initial website for Freedom Phone didn’t list ANY phone technical specs until Finman was called out on this and subsequently updated the website.
Furthermore, they claim to have an “uncensorable” app store that features apps that have been banned by other app stores. However, there’s no clarification about what this app store is, who built it, and what permissions it has. As a user, you don’t have any information on what’s being installed on your phone.
Freedom Phone also installs a vague and unexplained set of apps. While this may be a convenience for some, it offers a host of security issues. Installing apps that are not on app stores and are not open source is one of the most dangerous things you can do with a mobile phone. What are the exact apps Freedom Phone installs? And where did they get the source code for them?
Finally, as Mihalchik points out, there isn’t much information about how any of the software privacy and free speech features actually work on the August version of the Freedom Phone, or the new version that’s due out in November. This is another huge red flag.
Rogue Phone is transparent at every point. Plus, we tell you how to wipe your phone clean if you’d like to be extra-sure
Here at Rogue Phone, one of our central principals is transparency. We only use official releases of GrapheneOS and make fully transparent the features that are added and what they do. We’re transparent about our hardware sourcing, and we do our best to explain how to maintain your phone at a high level of privacy and security. We strive to do this in plain language that the layperson can understand (see our feature list above). We respect our customers and give them the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about the security and privacy of their phone.
At the end of the day, however – you don’t have to trust us. We teach you how to reset the phone to the GrapheneOS factory install. You can do this if you’re worried about an app that’s not privacy-respecting, or if you’re worried about what we installed. Your security is in your hands, and you can wipe the slate clean at any time. GrapheneOS also includes an open source Auditor app that you can use at any time to verify that the version of GrapheneOS installed on your phone is truly an official, secure release.
And finally, we do not install any additional software on your phone beyond the operating system and an open source app store (we do install Google Play Services if requested, read more about that on our FAQ). We provide the simplest phone we possibly can that meets our standards for security and convenience. With open source software, you don’t have to trust us or even the software developers. You can put your trust in a robust community of independent developers and auditors that, like you, value security and privacy above all else.
The fact is, the Freedom Phone isn’t built for security or privacy, and (whether intentionally or not) they might also be misleading you.
The current climate is one where security and privacy SHOULD be on your mind, and if they are – then Rogue Phone is one of your best options.