Erik Prince's new "secure" smartphone is an even bigger joke than it sounds

In July 2021, I posted here about the new smartphone company bankrolled by Blackwater brutalizer Erik Prince.

That post focused less on the phone itself and more on the absurdity of Greenwald either schilling for a war criminal, and/or getting duped into being a convenient patsy for a war criminal's PR campaign. All I knew at the time was that the company is called Unplugged, and the phone is the UP phone, and it supposedly runs on an Android fork called LibertOS. "Get a Government-grade secure phone with an Operating System developed for data privacy and security," the company boasts in its marketing. "Independent from Google and Apple."

Yes, sure, there's an obvious appeal in a Google- and Apple-free phone. And while I personally would not trust any product that Erik Prince had has hands on, I suppose he is good at things like ignoring government subpoenas after butchering innocent civilians wholesale. So I mean, if that's your plan, and you really understand how to otherwise keep the data on our iPhone contained, then sure, go buy the $850 UP phone when it's out this fall.

But not before you read this recent piece by the MIT Technology Review that actually goes into much more detail about just how much of a PR buzzword scam for right-wing militia cosplayers Unplugged really is:

Unplugged's day-to-day technology operations are run by Eran Karpen, a former employee of CommuniTake, the Israeli startup that gave rise to the now infamous hacker-for-hire firm NSO Group. There, Karpen built the IntactPhone, which the company called a "military-grade mobile device." He's also a veteran of Israel's Unit 8200, an agency that conducts cyber espionage and is the country's equivalent of the NSA. 

But anyone with that experience should be able to see through Prince's claim that the UP Phone is impossible to surveil.


"This is a phone, and the way that phones work is they triangulate to cell towers, and there is always latitude and longitude for exactly where you're sitting," [said Allan Liska, a cyberintelligence analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future]. "Nothing you do to the phone is going to change that."

The UP Phone's operating system, called LibertOS, is a proprietary version of Google's Android, according to an Unplugged spokesperson. It's running on an unclear mix of hardware that a company spokesperson says they've designed on their own. Even just maintaining a unique Android "fork"—a version of the operating system that departs from the original, like a fork in the road—is a difficult endeavor that can cost massive money and resources, experts warn. For a small startup, that can be an insurmountable challenge.

The Tech Review also shared this slide from an Unplugged investor pitch deck which is just *chef's kiss*

Later in the piece, writer Patrick Howell O'Neill explores other similar "privacy phone" scams that have all made pretty much the same promises as Prince does, with all the same stupid oversights and buzzwords.

Erik Prince wants to sell you a "secure" smartphone that's too good to be true [Patrick Howell O'Neill / MIT Technology Review]