Following the US snooping revelations, there is a growing
interest in a range of mobile phone products with one central
selling point: privacy.
The latest contender is the Blackphone, which runs on a
customised version of Google's Android software and encrypts
texts, voice calls and video chats was launched in the
Spanish Pavilion at the annual Mobile World Congress industry
fair in Barcelona today.
It aims to tap into the market for so-called mobile security
management (MSM) products which was estimated to be worth
$560 million in 2013 and is expected to nearly double in size
to $1 billion a year by 2015, according to ABI Research.
Separately Deutsche Telekom said it is also preparing to
launch a smartphone app that encrypts voice and text
messages, making it the first major network operator with a
mass market-compatible product that will be rolled out to all
Edward Snowden set off a global furore when he told
newspapers last year the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)
was mining the personal data of users of firms such as Google
, Facebook and Skype under its Prism programme.
The former NSA contractor, who faces spying charges at home
and has temporary asylum in Russia, also suggested the United
States had monitored the phone conversations of some 35 world
leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel, adding to
concerns over privacy.
Swisscom said last week it has seen a tripling of downloads
for its secure messaging service iO, which encrypts chats and
calls and stores all its data in Switzerland. Swiss mobile
messaging services myENIGMA and Threema also encrypt users'
The Blackphone, which chose Switzerland as its home base
because privacy there is a constitutional right, is the
result of cooperation between U.S. security software company
Silent Circle and Spanish handset maker GeeksPhone.
The device will retail for $629 including a two-year
subscription to the Silent Circle encryption service, which
normally costs $120 a year, as well as a one-year
subscription for three other parties.
"We are aiming to sell hundreds of thousands devices,"
Blackphone's managing director Toby Weir-Jones told
reporters. "This is a phone for everyone - whether you are an
executive who likes to bring his device to work or you are a
privacy-minded citizen who just wants to make sure that the
internet is not looking over your shoulder."
Meanwhile the Deutsche Telekom cloud-based app service, which
will be officially unveiled at the CeBIT trade fair in
Hanover next month, will be run with Germany's Sichere Mobile
Kommunikation mbH (GSMK), a provider of encrypted phone
services and devices.
GSMK, which has seen the number of customer inquiries it
receives rise fivefold since the Snowden leaks, has long been
offering phones with encryption services to governments and
firms willing to fork out 1,300-2,500 euros per handset.
However, such new offerings as the Deutsche Telekom app and
the Blackphone mean such secure communications are ready to
reach the mass market, although both sides of a call have to
be using the same service to get full encryption.
Deutsche Telekom has already launched its SiMKo 3-Smartphone,
an adapted version of Samsung's Galaxy, which encrypts
e-mails, contact data, appointments, text messages, photos,
audio recording and voice conversations.
The open-source Guardian Project is another service offering
free applications for secure communication over smartphones
It aims to help campaign groups and journalists to
communicate in hostile environments with its Tor version for
Android having been downloaded 2 million times so far, said
project founder Nathan Freitas.
With its app, users can gain access to internet services such
as Twitter or Facebook without passing through any
government-controlled servers. Most recently it saw interest
in its software rise in the Ukraine, Turkey, Vietnam and
"Every time when there is a crisis, you see an increase in
people talking about our software," Freitas said.
Still, it is almost impossible to ensure total privacy,
security experts say. Every phone with a radio can be traced
and followed. And metadata, information about who calls who,
can be as valuable as the content of conversations.
"I know it is a habit hard to unlearn, but it is better to
leave your mobile at home, if you want to remain unnoticed,"