Leading tech news site Ars Technica has a scoop with its exclusive review of the Blackphone. This phone, whose performance the reviewers labelled ‘mediocre’, was developed and designed with one purpose in mind: protecting your privacy.
The phone uses a custom Android operating system (so no Google!) to which a range of privacy apps have been added. For instance, Wi-Fi Manager keeps you from logging in on unsecured networks, SpiderOak gives you secure access to files stored on any computer, and Disconnect anonymizes your web searches. The Blackphone also comes with countless tools providing end-to-end encryption of communications with other people using these tools.
The introduction of the Blackphone obviously raises the question of whether it really is as secure as the manufacturer claims.
Ars Technica’s answer: Yes, the phone is ‘pretty damn secure’. When you place a voice or video call to another Blackphone user, the handset only sends encrypted packets to a server at Silent Circle (creator of the Blackphone). As only the exchange of these packets is visible, their contents cannot be readily retrieved. In other words, no one knows you are having a conversation with another user at all, let alone what you are discussing. The encryption of text calls would also appear to be sufficiently secure, given that attempts by the Ars Technica techies to identify or read encrypted messages were unsuccessful. The added use of a virtual private network (VPN) makes tracing browser sessions impossible.
Critics will say that buying a Blackphone means compromising considerably on usability, but obviously that is not the main concern when deciding to get one. Most people have clearly become much more conscious about their personal data as a result of the string of privacy scandals and disclosures in recent years. An excellent initiative like the Blackphone allows critical citizens to hide their lives from the Googles and Facebooks of this world without having to become a hermit.
Naturally, it would be too much to ask to equip all phones with the Blackphone’s privacy features by way of standard procedure (your data are simply too valuable), but this initiative definitely is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope the idea catches on and Silent Circle keeps on creating and developing gadgets that – unlike many others – focus on users’ privacy.
Keen to get yourself a Blackphone? It may take a bit of patience, but KPN will start selling them in the Netherlands soon.