This Company Wants to Be the Apple of Super-Secure Smartphones

And it has the marketing chops, at least, to do it.
More

Can technology alone keep your phone data secure?

A former Navy SEAL and a famous cryptographer seem to think so. The D.C.-based security company they co-founded, Silent Circle, has announced a new smartphone that puts “privacy and control ahead of anything else.” It’s called Blackphone.

“Cryptophones,” like those made by GSMK and Hoox, are nothing new—they’ve been around in some cases for years. But the security of phone data has become a much more mainstream concern since Edward Snowden revealed the size and scope of NSA spying last year. It’s that anxiety-steeped zeitgeist that Silent Circle’s capitalizing on—that suspicion that your own government might be reading your email or tracking your location.

Now, it’s unclear whether a private mobile phone could ever be truly private. Cell phones function by checking into cell towers, and law enforcement agencies can requisition from phone companies which towers have been checked into by which phones. Even before the Snowden revelations, we knew that they regularly do.

As the journalist Quinn Norton wrote yesterday, “All phones are location trackers no matter what else. It's just physics.”

So Blackphone may be a flawed concept from the beginning. We’ll find out over the next few months how it beats these expectations, as its security mitre is tested by experts and amateurs.

What interests me is the aesthetics of their first teaser trailer. It exudes the totalizing vibe of an Apple commercialThis is the world, the ad says, the ad you will navigate with your phone. The Blackphone, like an iPhone, becomes an extension of your identity—a tool, even, that makes having an identity possible.

“Technology was supposed to make our lives better,” intones the ad’s narrator. “Instead, we have lost our privacy. We have become enslaved.”

An Inception-style electric guitar chugs along below. Screenshots of articles about Edward Snowden float onto the screen.

“Blackphone is a journey built upon privacy, control, and security, wrapped in a high-end security, built by a very innovative, all-star steam of cryptography, security, and mobile innovators,” says one of the company’s co-founders.

Briefly ignore this description’s obscure physics and focus on the business promise being made. Innovators both cryptographic and mobile worked on this phone. It prizes control but it remains more than a product: It’s a journey. It’s a tool of the spirit.

Apple and its millieu of personal computer companies flowed from a free-wheeling, Bay Area-located counterculture of mental liberation. Blackphone sells itself on this same kind of liberation, but the freedom it hawks isn’t from cultural strictures—it’s from outside governments. It’s an affecting aesthetic, and perhaps we’ll see more companies deploy it. Where Apple and its ilk sold a world freed from cultural limits, a new group of companies are already doing the same around a supposed freedom from politics. 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Technicolor Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In