New Blackphone offers consumers a smart option with more privacy

03/02/2014 5:20 PM

03/02/2014 5:34 PM

For the past decade, cellphone manufacturers have been racing to make handsets ever more accessible to the Internet and all its social applications. But for those who like their privacy, say hello to the Blackphone.

Unveiled last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the smartphone emphasizes security. It is the product of a partnership between Oxon Hill, Md.-based Silent Circle and Geeksphone, based in Madrid.

Silent Circle, founded by a former Navy SEAL and the inventor of a widely used email encryption program known as Pretty Good Privacy, has made its name as a startup that encrypts phone calls and texts.

The company has been capitalizing on the surge of concern about security and privacy following last year’s revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Silent Circle executives said hardware was the next logical step.

“We were working on this long before the Snowden release,” said Mike Janke, the company’s chief executive. But security and privacy have “become a number one problem and concern for consumers and government and business alike,” he said. “It just so happens we got lucky.”

The Blackphone will feel like a regular Android phone, Janke said, but won’t have the default settings that give pre-loaded applications access to personal information.

Instead, the device will be powered by PrivatOS, an operating system that works with privacy-enabled applications.

Dutch telecommunications company KPN has agreed to be a partner carrier and will offer Blackphones in parts of Europe. Test versions of the phone will go out in April, and the Blackphone is slated to be available in June.

Janke said Silent Circle has already seen significant interest from government agencies.

To ramp up, the company is rapidly hiring for its Blackphone unit. The team is expected to grow to a couple of hundred people this year, Janke said.

Silent Circle is in the process of expanding its office space, making its fourth move in the past 16 months. The company is taking over 16,000 square feet on the top floor of a National Harbor office building.

And even before the Blackphone is released, Janke is promising a Blacktablet.

“We’re building a family of products,” he said.

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