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The Blackphone ships -- built for stealth

The Blackphone ships -- built for stealth
Blackphone, a smartphone that focuses on security and user privacy, began shipping to customers Monday. (SGP Technologies)

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.

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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.

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