Secure Blackphone Looks to Block Big Brother

by Matt Klassen on January 17, 2014

With Big Brother looking over our shoulders recording our every move, the concern for maintaining one’s personal privacy has never been greater. In fact, with each subsequent revelation about the NSA’s dirty deeds showing just how involved the agency is in snooping into the business of us ordinary folk, such concern has actually created an entirely new mobile market niche focused on highly secure snoop-proof technology.

To that and, encrypted communications service provider Silent Circle and Madrid-based cellphone maker Geeksphone have partnered up to create the first notable entry in this new security market, the Blackphone, aimed squarely at making Big Brother’s job of spying on us significantly more difficult. As the phone’s website states, “Blackphone is the world’s first smartphone to put privacy and control ahead of everything else. Ahead of carriers. Ahead of advertising. Blackphone is re-shaping the landscape of personal communications.” The firm will officially unveil the phone at the Mobile World Congress next month.

Carrier and vendor agnostic, the Blackphone purportedly allows users to make and receive calls and text securely, as well as secure video chat and file transfer and storage. But despite this added security, these phone makers may lack the one thing people seeking enhanced privacy protection really want: credibility.

There’s no question that given the ongoing NSA scandal that privacy is on everyone’s minds like never before. Sure we always thought Big Brother might be listening in on our private correspondences but then Edward Snowden just had to go ahead and remove any doubt.

As TechNewsWorld writer Kris Holt explains, “To keep Blackphone communications truly secure, both the sender and recipient of communications would need to use encrypted devices and clients. If a recipient should use an email client to which government spies might have access, for instance, it would render the privacy functions of Blackphone moot.”

Security aside, there are other positives about this phone as well. As mentioned, the Blackphone is carrier independent, meaning it will work on any GSM network. Further, it runs a modified security-focused Android build, dubbed PrivatOS. It is the “Android you are familiar with, which includes all of the available apps with an additional security measure that allows for encrypted messages and the extra level of privacy … users are demanding,” said Javier Aguera, cofounder of Geeksphone.

But as Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, explains, the problem Silent Circle and Geeksphone will have is that they lack credibility as a security vendor. “When you’re already nervous about something, trust becomes incredibly important — and how well you know the players that are providing the product becomes critical. These guys are not well-known, at least not to the people who are likely to buy the phone,” he said.

“[Mobilesecurity is] a growing niche, thanks to the NSA. The NSA is creating a significant amount of demand for products not created in theU.S.that are secure. There’s an opportunity here, but you still have to have a brand people will trust. People have to believe you will deliver on your promise,” Enderle emphasized.

In the end, there’s no question that security-conscious technology has the potential to be one of the fastest growing niche markets in the mobile sector, as it will appeal to both consumer and enterprise customers. But that said, from a business perspective a security focus may not be the strongest foundation upon which to build a sustainable empire, for as we saw with Blackberry, even with an unbreakable lock on the mobile door, the walls can still come crashing down.

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