Since Edward Snowden released details of the activities of the NSA people have been increasingly concerned with privacy and how their private data is used. The new Blackphone is a device that runs on Android which isn't particularly secure but the developers have made many changes to Android both visible and under the hood and re-labeled it PrivatOS.
Visually the Blackphone looks like a fairly standard Android Handset featuring a 4.7-inch HD screen, 2GHz quad-core processor, 16GB onboard storage and an 8-Megapixel camera. The device is produced by Silent Circle, a company that is renowned for it's portfolio of security and encryption software along with a Spanish hardware startup called Geeksphone.
Blackphone claims to be a pioneer in placing 'privacy' and 'control' in the hands of it's users. This is achieved using a combination of secure applications and modifications to the underlying Android operating systems that gives users a clear insight and control over what third-party applications are requesting to do with their data.
The Blackphone consists of a suite of apps developed by Silent Circle such as Silent Phone which features peer-to-peer encrypted VoIP calls, Silent Text which also uses the same level of encryption and Silent Contacts which replaces the stock contacts app usually found in Android which safeguards your contact list from apps that might try to gain access to your contacts list for nefarious reasons. If you have an iPhone you can already take advantage of these apps by way of a subscription services and the Blackphone comes with two years of service included in the price of the handset.
Whilst the Blackphone is great for those worried about their privacy and security there is a bit of work to be done as the device is only secure when using peer-to-peer encryption and for this to work you need to be calling someone else with a Blackphone in order for this to work. It seems that Silent Circle are aware that this might be a deal breaker for some so they have taken some steps in order to make it a little bit easier. Everyone that purchases a Blackphone will also receive an extra three one-year subscriptions in addition to their own to allow users to hand one to friends, family and colleagues. Once the free subscription runs out you can either pay $10 a month for continued service or purchase a Blackphone.
It's clear that Silent Circle is hoping that free subscriptions for friends and family will convert to paying customers at the end of the free period but I feel that it's going to take some convincing for users to get their friends to signup for yet another monthly subscription. The Blackphone is an interesting device and it will be interesting to see how this takes off. It is however important to remember that there is no such thing as a NSA proof smartphone and no matter what security you have in place there will also be someone smart enough to crack it. That being said I feel the Blackphone is definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to tightening the security of our smartphones. I will certainly be watching this with great interest.
Images courtesty of PressPack from BlackPhone.ch