Written by Nick Heer.

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.