The death (and rebirth) of data privacy

Vision 2016

With the number and scale of data breaches skyrocketing, many users have security battle fatigue. And 2016 is ramping up for more privacy intrusion on mobile and desktop platforms, not less.

The weak link in the privacy chain nowadays is the device with our most personal data: our phone. Governments want to listen in, and claim national security as eminent domain over our handsets. What of corporate responsibility? In Bruce Schneier’s Crypt-O-Gram newsletter, the security guru sums it up: “It’s only when the costs of insecurity exceed the costs of doing it right that companies will invest properly in our security.”

However, one firm committed to smartphone privacy is Switzerland-headquartered Silent Circle. In November, they partnered with Hong Kong operator 1O1O (CSL’s business-focused brand) to sell their Blackphone 2 handset in the HKSAR.

See Also

Vision 2016 Supplement
HKT's 1O1O launches Blackphone 2
MWC2015: Privacy-centric Silent Circle debuts new smartphone, tablet

The Blackphone 2 is no mass-produced Android-powered device preloaded with bloatware. In June, the first iteration of the Blackphone was added to the permanent collection at the privately owned International Spy Museum in Washington DC, in the gallery labeled: “Weapons of Mass Disruption.” The device was earlier inducted into the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and named one of Time Magazine’s best 25 inventions of 2014.

Like its predecessor, the Blackphone 2 uses a proprietary Silent OS operating system based on Google Android technology, and offers standard features like remote wipe. Less standard is their private communications app Silent Phone, which “offers encrypted and secure voice calling, conference calling, video conferencing, as well as secure text and file transfers.”

“Calls and texts between Silent Phone users are encrypted end-to-end between your mobile devices, whether your partner is using Android, iOS, or Silent OS on Blackphone,” said Silent Circle in a statement. “Built-in ‘Burn’ functionality lets you set an auto-destruct time for your text messages, from one minute to up to three months.”    

Selling “peace-of-mind”    

“We are confident the innovative Blackphone 2, packed with remarkable capabilities, will provide our customers with the ultimate mobile experience and peace-of-mind,” said Bruce Lam, CMO of CSL Mobile, in a statement. Hype aside, the device is intended to thwart unwarranted snooping.   

Hong Kong boasts one of the world’s higher penetration rates for mobile devices, and competition for customers is cut-throat. Is the strategy more about offering a sexy new device? Will the Blackphone 2’s vaunted encryption render it unusable north of the border? To what extent will it preserve our data privacy?   

Of course, the greatest point-of-failure is the user. Encryption isn’t of much use when you’re blindly uploading a dozen images onto a social network at 3:00AM. But the Swiss firm is serious about giving users a shot at avoiding unwarranted interception of private communications.   

Now you can stroll into a commercial shop in Hong Kong and buy a handset designed for data privacy. Perhaps 2016 will see a greater interest in mobile security after all. 

Six key trends to prepare you for the digital revolution:

  1. Spectrum, security, wallet and watch  
  2. Digital command centers will become organizational imperatives
  3. Five ways to embrace digital disruption
  4. Accelerating growth will alter the fintech picture
  5. The year of industrial-strength IoT
  6. The death (and rebirth) of data privacy

This article was first published in Telecom Asia Vision 2016 Supplement

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