Blackphone will learn security alone doesn't sell

Can a smartphone manufacturer turn a profit by making security and privacy the linchpins of its product? I doubt it, but Blackphone believes it's possible.

Our privacy savior

The company is betting businesses and consumers will open their wallets for a high-end smartphone that works on any GSM network and provides "privacy and control without any hooks to carriers or vendors." Blackphone will start taking pre-orders for its namesake phone Feb. 24 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

While there isn't much in the way of technical details, the company is talking a good game. Along with secure texting and phone calls, the Blackphone will store and exchange files securely, hold secure video chats, provide private browsing and access the Internet through a virtual private network (VPN) connection.

In a promotional video, a voiceover babbles about how we have all lost our privacy and have become "enslaved" to technology. The implication is Blackphone will save us from this dystopia.

To make its point, the scare ad includes headlines on spying by the U.S. National Security Agency and a wandering mystery person dressed in black who looks like an extra from the "Matrix" trilogy.

With five co-founders, there are lots of chiefs in this organization, which is a Swiss joint venture between Silent Circle and Geeksphone.

"What we're trying to do is make a phone whose sole purpose is to protect user privacy," co-founder Phil Zimmermann, who is also president of Silent Circle, says in the ad.

Blackphone will run the company's own flavor of Android called PrivatOS, "which includes all of the available apps with an additional security measure that allows for encrypted messages, and the extra level of privacy which users are demanding for on the market." 

A niche market

I have no idea what that last quote means or whether Blackphone will handle aggressive adware any differently than any other Android phone. For the phone to be successful its going to have to play nice with lots of apps, many of which grab gobs of personal data.

Blackphone is trying to fill the void left in the market by Blackberry's near demise. Even the name makes one think of the Blackberry, which was the gold standard for mobile security until if forgot how to make a phone people wanted. Good security alone just wasn't enough.

The same is true for Blackphone. It's going after a niche market, Some businesses will want it, if it fits nicely in their corporate networks for the right price. A few consumers will also buy it, particularly those who wear tinfoil hats to reflect radio waves trying to read their thoughts.

But the majority of people will look at price and what they can do with the apps running on the device. Most people are not paranoid about security when using their iPhone or their Android phone, and I doubt Blackphone's ads will change that.  

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