updated 10:11 am EST, Mon February 24, 2014
New phone gives more privacy and security control to users at every level
Silent Circle and Geeksphone today announced its inaugural product, the Blackphone -- a smartphone designed from first principles to place privacy and control directly in the hands of its users. The company claims that for its $629 offering price, it is providing $1,469 in hardware and privacy-enhancing security services to purchasers of its forked Android-based device.
The phone doesn't distinguish itself on specs -- it has a 4.7-inch "HD" IPS screen, a 2Ghz quad-core processor, a 8MP rear shooter, and 16GB of storage. Few other concrete specs are available.
The installed apps and included subscriptions are what set the phone apart -- Silent Phone offers peer-to-peer encrypted VoIP communications. Silent Contacts replaces the stock Android contacts app, preventing other apps from harvesting data, and Silent Text provides encrypted text messaging.
Purchase of the phone from the venture allows access to the apps for two years. Secure communications with other platforms require purchase of the apps, as well as a monthly subscription. Users who purchase the phone will recieve three one-year subscriptions to Silent Circle's apps to distribute as they see fit. The security suite otherwise is $10 per month.
As a nod to the inherent insecurity of installing apps from the Google Play store, the company has developed Security Center, an app that gives very specific control to what apps are allowed to do. Rather than provide a list of permissions an app demands at install, the Security Center can modify every single permission an app calls for, and can provide or revoke said permissions on the fly. This will provide problems with some applications, but Silent Circle hopes that this will force more communications between users and coders regarding "monetizing personal data."
Some third-party security packages are included as well. Also bundled with the phone for two years are VPN anonymizer Disconnect, and SpiderOak, which provides 5GB of secure cloud storage. PrivatOS also offers frequent Secure Over-The-Air (SOTA) updates directly from SGP Technologies, rather than relying on carriers to approve and release updates.
Silent Circle is a global encrypted communications service headquartered in Washington DC. Geeksphone is a Spanish company headquartered in Madrid that specializes in the development, promotion and commercialization of "open source" mobile telephony solutions. Geeksphone became the first European brand to launch an Android smartphone in 2009, and launched the world's first Firefox OS-powered smartphone in 2013.
The combined initiative is spearheaded by notable figures in the security industry, including Phil Zimmermann, creator of PGP; Javier Aguera, co-founder of Geeksphone; Jon Callas, co-founder of PGP Inc. and CTO of Silent Circle; Rodrigo Silva-Ramos, co-founder of Geeksphone; and Mike Janke, CEO of Silent Circle and former US Navy SEAL.
The venture is shooting for 10 million sales per year within three years. Other devices in the family are planned, but no specific announcements have been made. Preorders for $629 (with no subsidy given or planned) have commenced, with the first batch of phones shipping in June.