Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for August 3rd, 2022

Unplugged Responds, Kind Of

Last week, before publishing my story about Unplugged, I sent the company a series of questions about its relationship with Glenn Greenwald, its curiously similar product to the Liberty Ghost phone, and a few other related matters. As mentioned, I had not heard back from the company when I published the article, but I promised an update if I got a response.

Here is what Unplugged told me today:

Unplugged is engaging with a variety of thought leaders and communities that all share our core values for reclaiming privacy. We had invited Glenn to be our guest at DEF CON to share his views on privacy with the audience. As it seems, he’s not going to come.

Our phone is NOT manufactured in China. Check our website FAQ.

I followed up by asking whether Unplugged waited for a response from Greenwald before telling journalists he would be at the conference on the company’s behalf and promising meetings with him. I also asked the company to, again, clarify its relationship with Liberty Blockchain. I have not heard back.

The FAQ page on Unplugged’s website does say its phones are manufactured in Vietnam, Taiwan, and Indonesia. That seems plausible to me, though I question why a couple of small companies would need to source production from three different countries.

If you are wondering how I could have missed such an obvious question and answer, you are not alone; I was equally incredulous. It turns out Unplugged’s website is built in Wix and, while extremely janky under the hood, Wix encloses plenty of metadata in its HTML and JSON source. Here is the relevant section, prettified for readability and with a chunk of irrelevant elements removed:

{
"id":"7e5e2a98-f7ab-4d9e-9d03-f5834e35d48b",
"question":"Where the UP Phone is manufactured?",
"answer":{
    "blocks":[{
        "key":"atf0a",
        "text":"Our factories are located in Vietnam, Taiwan and Indonesia",
        […]
        "slug":"where-the-up-phone",
        "shareLink":"https://www.unplugged.com//s/f/where-the-up-phone",
        "createdDate":"2022-07-28T19:39:50.568208Z",
        "updatedDate":"2022-07-28T19:40:02.388140Z"
    }]
}

This specific question and answer was inserted into the site’s FAQ on July 28 at about 7:39 PM UTC+0, which is about 1:39 PM on July 28 in my time zone. I sent questions to Unplugged, including clarification about where its phones are manufactured, about twenty hours before they updated the page with this answer.

Interestingly, while there are factories in all three countries Unplugged says makes its smartphone, many of them are in the names of Chinese companies like Oppo and ZTE. If someone is paranoid about the privacy implications of their smartphone’s manufacturing location, surely that also matters. Unplugged has not responded to questions about its manufacturing partners.

Update: One of the questions I sent Unplugged was:

Did Greenwald agree to attend DEF CON with your company before invitations to set up meeting times with Greenwald were sent to journalists?

On August 4, the company responded:

Unplugged is a privacy-first company, and as such we do not disclose information about one’s personal affairs. What we will say is our team only sends accurate information in pitches to reporters.

Greenwald told me “specific dates about when I was supposedly available to meet with journalists about this phone” were not agreed to and he did not sign any contract or agree to speak about this phone. The PR representative who sent the invitations refused to comment. Someone is being less than forthcoming and, based on the responses I have received from all parties, I do not think we will learn what really happened with this bizarre situation.

Also from Unplugged:

Liberty are indeed our partners. They sell a special edition of our phone with a couple of tweaks which are unique for their devices (such as branded casing, wallpaper and some pre-installed apps).

Unplugged did not elaborate on whether there were other connections between the companies.

A ‘Columbo’ Moment

Anna Merlan, Vice:

On cross-examination, though, things got far stickier for [Alex] Jones, especially when plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Bankston informed him that 12 days ago, Jones’ attorneys accidentally sent him an entire digital copy of Jones’ cellphone, which they then failed to declare as privileged. That means Bankston has wide latitude to ask Jones about anything he found on the phone that conflicts with things Jones has said in his testimony.

This is personal to me. For lots of very boring reasons, Jones has unfortunately been a lurking figure in the back of my brain for about twenty years. The impact he has had on my life is certainly a tiny fraction of the degree to which his broadcasts have played a role in harming the lives of those connected to the mass murder at Sandy Hook. Still, it was immensely satisfying to watch the moment Bankston told him what he obtained.

Update: Parker Molloy:

I am asking people in media to understand that their editorial decisions, from who gets invited to appear on talk shows to what topics we actually hear about in the news (and how often), are not value-neutral. Want to invite the next Tomi Lahren or Alex Jones to appear on your show? Fine. But just know that you’re not “exposing” their bad ideas or “showing the public who they really are;” you’re giving them an opportunity, which they will be lucky to have (even if they pretend to be upset about it, as Jones did about his Megyn Kelly interview.

In short: make good choices.

Commentators are pointing to this factor as among the biggest problems with a new documentary about Jones.