News / Science & Technology

Mobile Privacy Sells in Post-Snowden World

An employee of German IT-security and encryption specialist Rohde und Schwarz SIT GmbH presents a TopSec phone encryption system next to a mobile phone in Berlin, Oct. 29, 2013.
An employee of German IT-security and encryption specialist Rohde und Schwarz SIT GmbH presents a TopSec phone encryption system next to a mobile phone in Berlin, Oct. 29, 2013.
Reuters
Following the Snowden snooping revelations, there is growing interest in a range of mobile phone products with one central selling point: privacy.
 
The latest contender is the Blackphone, an Android software-based mobile which encrypts texts, voice calls and video chats and will be launched at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday.
 
It aims to tap into the market for so-called mobile security management (MSM) products, which was estimated at $560 million in 2013 and is expected to nearly double in size to $1 billion a year by 2015, according to ABI Research.
 
Deutsche Telekom is also preparing to launch a smartphone app that encrypts voice and text messages, making it the first major network operator with a mass market-compatible product that will be rolled out to all its users.
 
Edward Snowden set off a global furor when he told newspapers last year the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was mining the personal data of users of firms such as Google, Facebook and Skype in a secret program codenamed Prism.
 
Further leaks from the former NSA contractor, who faces espionage charges at home and has temporary asylum in Russia, suggested the United States had monitored phone conversations of some 35 world leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel.
 
The Blackphone is the result of cooperation between security software company Silent Circle and Spanish handset maker GeeksPhone and they will launch it at the Barcelona event, Europe's largest annual phone industry conference.
 
While details about the handset have been closely guarded, analysts expect it to cost less than high-end iPhone models.
 
The Deutsche Telekom cloud-based app service, which will be officially unveiled at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover next month, will be run with Germany's Sichere Mobile Kommunikation mbH (GSMK), a provider of encrypted phone services and devices.
 
GSMK, which has seen the number of customer inquiries it receives rise fivefold since the Snowden leaks, has long been offering phones with encryption services to governments and firms willing to fork out 1,300-2,500 euros per handset.
 
However, such new offerings as the app and the Blackphone mean such secure communications are ready to reach mass-market consumers.
 
WhatsApp
 
Free text messaging service WhatsApp, which Facebook agreed to acquire for $19 billion last week, is a well-known product which has reaped the benefit of growing consumer awareness of privacy issues.
 
Private communication is one of its appeals - it does not store the names of its more than 450 million users and instead simply uses phone numbers - making it hard to identify who is chatting with whom.
 
Mobile operator Swisscom said last week it has seen a tripling of downloads for its secure messaging service iO, which encrypts chats and calls and stores all its data in Switzerland. Swiss mobile messaging services myENIGMA and Threema also encrypt users' exchanges.
 
Deutsche Telekom has already launched its SiMKo 3-Smartphone, an adapted version of Samsung's Galaxy, which encrypts e-mails, contact data, appointments, text messages, photos, audio recording and voice conversations.
 
The open-source Guardian Project is another service offering free applications for secure communication over smartphones and tablets.
 
It aims to help human rights groups and journalists to safely communicate in hostile environments, and its Tor version for Android has been downloaded 2 million times so far, said project founder Nathan Freitas.
 
With its app, users can gain access to Internet services such as Twitter or Facebook, bypassing any government efforts to control the Internet. Most recently it saw interest in its software rise in the Ukraine, Turkey, Vietnam and Venezuela.
 
“Every time when there is a crisis, you see an increase in people talking about our software,” Freitas said.
 
Still, it is almost impossible to ensure total privacy, security experts say. Every phone with a digital transmitter can be traced and followed. And metadata, information about who calls who, can be as valuable as the content of conversations.
 
“I know it is a habit hard to unlearn, but it is better to leave your mobile at home, if you want to remain unnoticed,” Freitas said.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs