* Interest in mobile encryption sparked by privacy fears
* "Mobile security management" market seen at $1 bln by 2015
* Blackphone to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress
* Deutsche Telekom prepares to launch encryption app
By Harro Ten Wolde
BARCELONA, Feb 24 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 furore 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 programme
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
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
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
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,"
(Additional reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Pravin