MWC Spotlight: Blackphones Optimised for Privacy Smartphone

BlackphoneIts clear that user privacy is firmly on the agenda for 2014. The year is barely two months old, and weve already seen a scandal around leaky apps, Facebook dropping two mobile measurement partners due to data concerns, and a Microsoft survey identifying privacy as the single biggest global tech concern.

Data collection is deeply entrenched into the business of mobile marketing, and user data is highly valuable to everyone from manufacturers to advertisers, telcos to developers. But SGP – a joint venture between Geeksphone, manufacturer of the first Firefox OS handset, and Silent Circle, which specialises in encrypted communications – is hoping to change all that with Blackphone, its optimised for privacy smartphone unveiled this week at MWC.

“We want to move away from commercial practice of monetising user activity data”, says managing director Toby Weir-Jones. “We see privacy as a premium valued feature.”

The Blackphone – due to go on sale in June, at a global pricepoint of $629 (£518) plus shipping and tax – offers encrypted voice calls, messaging and file transfer, and cant be tracked by Bluetooth devices like Apples iBeacon.

Javier Agüera, COO & co-founder of Geeksphone, describes it as “the phone no one has dared to make yet”.

Whats inside
Based on the specs that have been released so far – 2GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB of storage – the hardware is respectable but not particularly special. Theres no proprietary tech involved, although Blackphone argues this is a strength, as it “improves interoperability” with other Android devices.

The key to Blackphone, though, is the software. Buying a handset also gets you a set of two-year subscriptions – Silent Circle, 5GB of secure cloud storage, and 1GB of private internet access per month from Disconnect – plus three one-year friends and family passes, meaning Blackphone will be able to communicate securely with selected users of standard Android and iOS devices.

According to Weir-Jones, the package is worth more than $1,500 in total. But what happen after two years, once those subscriptions expire?

Well, you could start paying the monthly fees. Or, as Weir-Jones points out: “Statistically speaking, youll be in the market for a new handset. And we will of course be happy to oblige.”

The device will be sold unlocked, though Dutch telco KPN Mobile has signed up as a launch partner, and will be selling the phone through its stores.

“Privacy of telecommunications is a basic right,” says Jaya Baloo, chief information security officer at KPN. “Its not about having something to hide, its about determining how much you want to share. Blackphone is putting that power back in your hands.”