The Blackphone, the first smartphone focused on privacy, began shipping Monday. Designed for users primarily concerned about privacy and data protection, the Blackphone carries a high price tag: $629, with no subsidy available through cellphone carriers.
"There's a market out there of people who wanted access to these tools who had assumed they were limited to enterprises and government agencies," said Toby Weir-Jones, chief executive of Blackphone creator SGB Technologies. SGB, based in Switzerland with a U.S. office near Washington, D.C., is a joint venture of cryptography software specialist Silent Circles and Spanish phone maker Geeksphone. The company hopes to sell to individuals, companies and government agencies.
The Blackphone runs PrivateOS, a modified version of the Android operating system. Is comes equipped with a complement of privacy and security features including two-year subscriptions to Silent Circles' secure voice, video calling and text-messaging service; Disconnect, a virtual private network that scrubs out identifying information; and SpiderOak, a provider of heavily encrypted cloud storage.
A Blackphone user can control what information can and can't be accessed by Android apps; shut off selected parts of the smartphone, like the camera; and wipe data off the phone from a remote Web portal. A feature called Burn Notice sets a timer to make text messages disappear on schedule.
The hard-core technology site ArsTechnica reviewed an early Blackphone and deemed it "pretty damn secure," but at a cost, and not just in dollars: the privacy features use a lot of computing power and make the phone slower than popular smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 5s.