What will be in the Blackphone privacy app store?

Taking control of personal communications security and privacy should be at the top of your list for 2015. One company reckons that they’ve got the solution, a fortified smartphone.

blackphone lead image
Credit: Blackphone

If you want to know what my bet is for the business world’s super-hot topic in 2015, I’ll tell you: its privacy and security.

The revelations of Edward Snowden, the American computer expert who leaked government documents detailing mass surveillance, in possible cahoots with telecom companies, should have you watchful, too. The days of automatic privacy are over.

German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung, for example, reckons security services have had access to global submarine cables, with help from telco cable and wireless, since 2009.

Our communications channels, clearly, are not secure.

Encrypted calling

Encryption expert Silent Circle thinks it may have a partial answer to this problem. Its security-oriented smartphone, named Blackphone and developed in a partnership with Geeksphone, with encrypted peer-to-peer VoIP, secured text, and other privacy features launched in June 2014 provide a level of security—although it’s not 100% NSA-proof.

It’s also about to launch an app store.

About the phone

Silent Circle’s Android-based smartphone ($629 in the Blackphone store) uses a modified version of Android called PrivatOS and a suite of apps for secure calls, video chats, texts, file transfers and contact storage.

The operating system, PrivatOS, predominantly lets you control app permissions and remote wipe the device.

An upcoming revision, due soon, will create secure containers on the device, called Silent Space.

Those containers are structured in such a way so that they can hold apps securely—one app in one container can’t communicate with another app in a different container. This is unlike how Android ordinarily functions, where the whole phone acts as the sum of its parts.

Silent Suite

In addition, a suite of apps, pre-loaded on the phone but also available standalone for commonly available Android and iOS devices, provides secure calling functions.

Silent phone, is a secure VoIP app that operates over 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi networks.

Silent Text encrypts text messages and includes “burn” functionality, where messages can be destroyed.

Silent Contacts encrypts and password-protects the address book, and Silent World is a VoIP calling plan for calling less privacy-obsessed people on regular numbers.

Other Blackphone-published apps include a firewall.

The app store

However, things are about to ramp-up, it appears. The company recently disclosed, in its blog, that it will be launching an app store sometime in January 2015.

The app store will likely include the suite of “Silent” apps mentioned above that Silent Circle is keen to promote. But the store will also feature third-party, supposedly spy-proof apps.

Likely inclusions are Disconnect Secure Wireless, SpiderOak Blackphone Edition, and Kismet Smart Wi-Fi Manager, among others. Those three apps are already native on the Blackphone.

Thomas Fox-Brewster, who’s written about the app store for Forbes magazine, says that the app store will be open to all Android devices, so you won’t need a Blackphone to play.

Plus, it appears that the app store will be open to new submissions from third-party developers.

Third party apps

Disconnect Secure Wireless is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that the publisher says will “help decrease” tracking.

Cookies, fingerprinting, and data collection on surfing habits is greatly reduced, the company says. A subscription-based Secure Wireless is already available in the Google Play store for normal devices.

Disconnect also makes anti-malvertising, private search, privacy icon, and children’s privacy products, so these may come onto the Blackphone marketplace sometime too.

Private cloud

The second of the third-party apps already seen at Blackphone, and likely to feature in the app store, is SpiderOak Blackphone Edition. SpiderOak is a privacy-oriented cloud service. It reckons that it is superior to other cloud applications because of its “Zero Knowledge” policy, which says no one can gain access to your data and only you can see it. In other words, it can’t “betray your trust” because it doesn’t have access anyway. An Android version is currently available in the Play store.

Kismet Smart Wi-Fi Manager is a tool for controlling Wi-Fi connections and only connecting to networks that you trust. An Android version is available for $2.99 in Play.

Vetting

The vetting of apps is likely going to be the most interesting element of the Blackphone store. With reportedly compromised apps showing up in Google’s Play from time-to-time, a vetted marketplace with strong, secure apps may be a significant differentiator—and the way to gain an advantage over Google’s offering.

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