Preorders for joint venture between Geeksphone and Silent Circle to begin at Mobile World Congress

Mobile World Congress

Coming next month at Mobile World Congress, we should get a look at the "Blackphone," a joint venture between Geeksphone (you know them as being an early CyanogenMod supporter) and Silent Circle. BlackPhone aims to give a traditional Android experience that "prioritizes the user's privacy and control, without any hooks to carriers or vendors."

Specific details are slim at this point, but Blackphone promises "revolutionary communications" with secure phone calls and texts, file sharing and video chat. 

It's calling its version of Android (and we don't yet know the base platform) "PrivatOS" and is headed up by Phil Zimmermann, who created the PGP standard of encryption widely used in e-mail. Other co-founding execs include Geeksphone's Javier Aguera and Rodrigo Wilva-Ramos, PGP's Jon Callas and ex-Navy SEAL and founder and fomer CEO of SOC Mike Janke.

More: Blackphone


Reader comments

'Blackphone' aims to be a secure Android experience


A seemingly easy to get court order would have them handing everything over secretly.

I don't think they could sue their way out of a wet paper bag at this point.

Posted via Android Central App

They are suing Typo for their keyboard.

Posted via VZW Moto X on the Android Central App

I think so... That keyboard looks like the peeled it off a BlackBerry and glued it to a case!

Nexus 5...enough said

But, if the handset is running Android, then such a suit would have no merit. Try again.

Posted from my "Gift from God" Nexus 5, my "God-Given" iPad Mini 2, or my "Risen" Samsung Chromebook.

You nailed it. I have no idea why people don't get this.
Until the secret courts are not secret anymore, the idea of a completely secure phone is hogwash.

Posted via Android Central App using an LG G2.

Unless the code is open-source, built by the user themselves, and data is sent directly between devices or encrypted in a secure way. It's possible, but it probably won't become mainstream because most people just don't care.

Posted via Android Central App

Intriguing. The main caveat with all this neat stuff is that on encryption doesn't work with communication if the other person isn't looking to have that encryption as well.

Posted via Android Central App

Wonderful, now all it needs is FCC approval to not only release it in the US but to add in all the backdoors the NSA needs to foil the secure services or encryption.
Let's also not forget that in order to chat or text with someone else in a secure fashion, both parties have to use the same texting/calling software.

As someone who has worked hard for the last 6 months to secure your digital rights both here in the US and abroad, I find that nobody cares enough about digital spying to use secure chats or texts... I just don't see such people now going to buy a phone just to do the same as some apps that you can use today (when they won't even use the apps).

This at first might sound good on paper, but you still have to use it on a public carrier and thus all transactions will be recorded by them and then given to the NSA apon request. Just look at your terms and conditions you sign when getting a new phone... In AT&T's case, it states that they can even use any info they collect on you to "prevent" you from breaking the law.

I'm sorry but such a phone will not stop the USA's unconstitutional abuse towards it's citizens and the world. It has so far made us all less safe and totally unsecure.

You want to know just who will buy such a phone? All the people who are willing to give up using such things like Google services, Facebook, and Twitter. Yeah, nobody.

Posted via Android Central App

Good points.

And, I'm guessing just buying one of these phones will get you on the NSA Watch List.

Hi poglad,

Sadly I disagree. Al Qaeda hasn't used cellphones for secure communications since GWB announced on TV that the US spys on telecommunications.

Btw, Al Qaeda would still have to use a public carrier both abroad and here in the states. Thus between the backdoors imbeded into the hardware and the telecoms agreeing to help with spying, do you think that Al Qaeda would be stupid enough to use such a phone for security reasons?

Posted via Android Central App

How can anyone be sure the Blackphone (or any phone) is really secure unless they actually manufacture the hardware, too? All the cypto in the world won't make the phone secure if, just as one example, the NSA goes to the maker of the Bluetooth chip and puts a back door in the hardware. Or the back door could be in the CPU. Or the speech processing DSP chip. Or the noise-cancelling chip. Etc... Unless Blackphone (or anybody) actually has their own plant making ALL their internals, under their direct control, how would they ever know if somebody put a back door in? And even Apple contracts out production, so it seems a bit unlikely that a small, new player like Blackphone would have direct control of their own manufacturing for all the chips used in their phone.

I just heard on NPR yesterday that Dick Cheney was the world's first recipient of a Bluetooth-capable pacemaker. But he wouldn't let them turn on the Bluetooth for fear of it being hacked. What does Dick Cheney know about the level of security in currently manufactured Bluetooth chips that we don't?

That's true. If they don't manufacture the hardware, then it is not stopping what the NSA is doing, only maybe merely slowing them down. If this phone makes it pass the FCC with no problems, and the NSA or anyone working for them doesn't try to intervene with this phone, then the chances are they somehow still have a backdoor into this phone.

Yes Stuart, Dick Chaney is smart enough to know that such backdoor policies on both hardware as well as software leave you the consumer "less secure", not more.

Posted via Android Central App

He doesn't know anything that hasn't already been published. It's already known that connected devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, insulin pumps, etc. are notoriously insecure. Anyone who would consider themselves a high-value target would be foolish to use this kind of tech.

Since you listen to NPR, I kept waiting for the "And why does Dick Cheny need a pacemaker, he doesn't have a heart" joke... :D Glad you played it straight!

Does anyone get, hear in the middle of conversation "this call is now being recorded"?
I get that 2 out of 3 times when I talk to my Google number. when I'm offline, Skype forwards my calls ($30/yr) to that number which I saved as family on vzw to avoid charges for exceeding landline minutes. Before I thought it might have been an app or something or just by accident, but now w the new phone it still happens and it's always with that number. First we were laughing about it and how I'm tripping :) but when I started asking my unaware friends or cousins, if they just heard something and what was it, they confirmed it. I think it has to be some kind of a glitch , because 1) I'm not that important 2) how do you get the security job done (secretly), while exposing what you are doing to the observed party 3) by now they should have figured out who i am, how big of a "threat" to what/who (only my own health :))
Still I find it super annoying , because it happens at least a few times during 1 call plus w additional "this call is off record now" in between.

Posted via Android Central App

Google Voice has a built-in feature to record your pressing the "4" button you can toggle recording on/off. Maybe you're accidentally hitting buttons while your talking and toggling the record feature on and off?

You can disable this feature by logging into your Google Voice account and:

Click the gear icon and select Settings.
Click the Calls tab.
Deselect the checkbox next to Call Options.

Very unlikely since I'm always using headphones, but will def go through the settings and try to disable it. I do remember now, that while creating that acct I set that feature On.

Posted via Android Central App

My stock in tin foil is going so strong!

Nah you guys are mostly right, but I am interested in seeing that this did not turn into a political debate. Well done!

First let me say I'm all for it and would def give one a shot. That being said with all we know now about every encryption security basically anything that we thought could be configured as secure is basically no longer. The NSA has broken everything we know of, how can this technology be any different? I ask because if they're doing it I say rock on!

I think you're going to see a good deal of re-examination of current encryption standards to see what's secure and what isn't. The consensus is that the NSA got access to current encryption by finding ways to insert flaws in the design process rather than being able to defeat it through brute force. That's actually a good thing in terms of security since, if you can keep the design process secure, then you can create a secure standard. I have a feeling that redesigning and securing these protocols is going to be a high priority for many, and Phil Zimmerman is an excellent guy to have working on something like this, since he basically wrote the book on public key encryption.

And what's the point of having more secure protocols if the chip that processes keystrokes in your keyboard, or the chip that processes the sound of your voice as you're speaking into your phone, is compromised and giving everything you type and/or everything you say to some third party (e.g. the NSA) before your keystrokes or voice ever even get to the software with the "new, secure" protocols?

True, but you have to start somewhere, and it's going to be harder to get data via compromised chips than by simply sucking up all the data going across public networks. For one thing, you can't simply flip them all on, or someone is going to notice a jump in data that can't be explained. Plus, it'll be easier to know that your computer is sending out this kind of data, since you can always install a packet analyzer on your network to look for data that can't be explained. If enough people do this, it'll start to paint a picture of what may or may not be compromised.

Still, you probably shouldn't just be worried about the NSA. Remember, lots of hardware is made in China now, so it's going to be pretty easy for the Chinese government to insert backdoors of its own.

Just have one weird point to mention. If they're going to make a closed secure phone OS. Why would they start with a open source, arguably less secure system.
Minus the money part, they're starting on a less secure base.

Open-source is actually more secure than closed-source. Look at it this way. Say that you want to buy a lock. Would you rather buy one where the salesman allows you to look at it, see how it works, and ask any locksmith you like to also come and inspect it, try to pick it, and run the results by all his locksmith friends before giving you a recommendation, or would you prefer to buy from a salesman who simply shows you the lock and tells you how secure it is but won't tell you how it works or let you open it up and have a look inside, and, at the most, will only allow you to discuss its security with locksmiths who work for his company?

With crypto, knowing how it is designed to work isn't what causes data breaches; it's figuring out the unexpected flaws in the system and exploiting them, or, better yet, inserting your own flaws that you can then exploit. Certainly, open-source software can have flaws, but it also allows auditing by anyone who wants to have a look, so those flaws can be spotted and fixed sooner.

Sometime in the future, this will all be a moot point. Quantum computers anyone?

I don't particularly like my communications being listened in on by the NSA etc etc. But, since I give no reason to draw attention to myself by partaking in illegal activities, I'm not worried. I'm not even a blip on their radar. Besides, what will any of you honestly do to prevent any of the things you are concerned with? Pencil and paper notes hand delivered? Not!

Posted via Android Central App on my Moto X

I think that, whatever solutions people are talking about, it's more due to the principle of the thing. You may be doing nothing wrong, but would you mind having cameras installed in your house? What if I told you that they were only going to be monitored by an artificial intelligence system that would only alert a human if it decides something illegal is going on? So, as long as you aren't breaking the law, no human will ever access those cameras. Would that bother you? Now what if I told you that you don't have a say in the matter, and if you try to cover them up, someone will visit your house, come in, and uncover them. And think about this: much crime is domestic violence, and this would be quite effective at catching that. You don't support domestic violence, do you?

There's also one more issue with a large, automated surveillance system: mistakes. If you say something that might seem inappropriate, if someone you know or even a stranger hears it, they may think it's funny, odd, weird, or maybe even offensive, but, unless it's way over the top, they usually let it go and forget it. However, computers don't have a sense of humor, they don't understand sarcasm, they don't understand context, and they never forget anything as long as it's in storage. So that inappropriate statement you made will get dutifully noted and compared to other things you've said or things that people around you have said, and inferences will be drawn--inferences that can affect you in ways that you can't control or defend yourself against. The system has decided that you're someone who warrants closer monitoring and maybe even a few restrictions on air travel and financial transactions, and suddenly you're on some list that you never knew existed and can't get off of.

Yes I would mind cameras in my house. My personal property, not a public space. Your example does not apply.

As far as large surveillance systems go, they're everywhere, especially in urban areas and cities. I live in a rural area, so no surveillance. :-) No drones yet either. My background is already on file - that happens when you need specific security clearances to work on the Shuttle program. I had no red flags, so I'm still not losing sleep.

Posted via Android Central App on my Moto X

Actually, the camera thing is not a hypothetical. Cameras inside homes in high crime areas was proposed by the police chief in Houston back in 1996.

And just because you don't believe you're under surveillance and/or it doesn't bother you, keep in mind that these programs bother some people very much. Just because it may or may not personally affect you doesn't make it OK.

Posted via Android Central App

Exactly, "proposed". Americans will not allow cameras in their personal living spaces. Public spaces are another issue altogether and another discussion.

I'm not saying ok or not ok. I'm still waiting for someone here who is worried about this to propose any type of solution. Go off grid, stay out of any and all public spaces, use no wireless or wired communication devices? What is anyone willing to sacrifice to remain as anonymous as possible?

Posted via Android Central App on my Moto X

Actually, people already have more cameras than they realize in their homes. Mics, too. Most new laptops and many desktops already come with built-in webcams and mics. Plus, some people have security cameras installed, and others have baby monitors, which can pick up audio and, in some cases, video, with some of them being IP-enabled. And then there are cell phones, all of which have mics and most of which have cameras. It was just revealed by the NYT the other day that the NSA has a way to access iPhones, and, as I recall, they have the ability to make the mic hot and also to access the camera. So there goes your "personal space" distinction.

Also, you mentioned whether the American people will go for this or that surveillance scheme. That's the problem; the American people haven't been consulted at all on any of these things. The only reason we know what we know is that Edward Snowden released information on these programs, and, even now, the government isn't doing any more than offering vague half-responses when some new revelation comes out. So, if they're not being candid now, what makes you think they'd be any more candid on the topic of accessing devices inside people's homes and offices? You know as well as I do that they don't really give a damn what the American people think, and if they want access to your webcam, cell phone mic/camera, security cameras, etc. badly enough, they're going to access them. You may draw the line at your property line, but they don't.

As for a solution, the only real one is to effect a real change in government. Show the politicians who support this the door, and yank the NSA back by its short hairs, firing and replacing as many people as necessary until they get the point.

My apologies if this sounds harsh. It isn't meant to be, and it certainly isn't personal, so please don't take it that way.

Good point.
I am also one of those with that notion "I'm not a criminal, so got nothing to hide" but one must wonder , where does/should that stop. I think that from whatever background we come from , very few would prefer "Minority Report" like security system.
Maybe I'm wrong, idk.

Posted via Android Central App

It isn't just the "Minority Report"-type system where you're always being watched, it's also the idea that people are suspects even before any crime has been committed. A clear distinction has to be drawn between solving crimes that have already occurred and preventing crimes that haven't occurred yet. The problem is that these agencies are treating possible future crimes like they treat crimes that have already taken place. Certainly, you want to find active conspiracies to commit a crime, but that's a slippery slope, and, before you know it, you're placing people under investigation because of a comment that someone thinks might indicate that the person might be thinking about the subject a little too much. That's the scary part because it makes people aware that they can come under scrutiny simply for discussing something too much, with too much graphic detail, with a certain point of view, or in the presence of the wrong people. And what makes it worse is the knowledge that there's really no way to speak anonymously, not with most if not all communications networks being monitored and even with the possibility that your phone or laptop could be turned into a bug inside your own home, which means conversations there, never meant to leave those four walls, can be intercepted if someone wants to do so badly enough.

This can't help anyone who uses insecure wifi networks or even uses non-encrypted chatting apps, right?

or can it?

The first error people commit when they become worried about the NSA/CIA etc spying on them is that they are not important enough to be spied on. People have over inflated value of their personal lives. No one gives a shit that you watch bbw porn.... unless those big beautiful women are 12 years old... then people might care.