By Jose Pagliery
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Blackphone, a special Android device specifically designed to guard your privacy from hackers and government spies, was such a success that there’s now a Blackphone 2.
The phone maker Silent Circle released its second-generation smartphone on Monday. It sells for $799.
On the outside, it seems to be a top-of-the-line smartphone like any other. There’s a 5.5-inch screen, two cameras (13 megapixel in the back, 5 MP in the front), 32 gigabytes of internal memory, and a powerful Qualcomm processor.
But the guts are the magic. It has built-in privacy features that go far beyond devices made by Apple, Microsoft or Samsung.
If privacy matters to you more than anything else, this is probably the phone for you.
The major selling point? The phone’s "security center," where users can select — down to minute details — exactly what information the phone can share with each app.
Apps — whether they are maps, games or social media — are notorious for recording highly personal data and quietly sharing it with advertisers and other firms.
Android devices and iPhones let you control some "permissions," like stopping an app from tracking your location. But Blackphone lets you see every single thing an app collects, including sound picked up from your microphone.
You might be surprised at what you find.
Then there’s the Blackphone’s built-in, highly private communication platform. Every other cellphone conducts regular phone calls along the cellular network. That means network operators like AT&T and Verizon can see who’s calling who, and governments can tap into those networks to listen in.
Meanwhile, Blackphones have special software that encrypts phone calls and text messages. That service is free for the first year, then $25 a year after that.
Blackphone 2 also has separate "spaces," so you can essentially have completely different phones with varying degrees of privacy on the same device. With a few clicks, you can quickly switch from a regular phone mode (with average tracking and data sharing) to a super-private phone fit for a spy (everything encrypted, blocks all apps).
The device also fixes the untrusted Wi-Fi problem: Public networks away from home are generally unsafe. Well, Blackphone 2 lets you set the phone to turn off Wi-Fi on your way out the door — preventing your phone from accidentally connecting to random Wi-Fi networks later in the day.
There’s also an extra feature you don’t hear about often. Apple and Google have secret access to your phone’s messages and photos if you use iCloud or Google’s online services. But Silent Circle says it never has keys to your data, so it can’t give up anything to law enforcement.
In fact, the company is hellbent on preventing governments from tracking its customers. That’s why last year, Silent Circle moved its operations from the United States to Switzerland.
It’s now known that the U.S. government regularly drags American companies into a secret federal court called FISA and forces them to hand over customer data. Silent Circle CEO Bill Conner told CNNMoney he can’t risk being put out of business with a single, secret legal order.
"I’m never going to give the government a backdoor," Conner said.
Ironically, the company told CNNMoney the phone’s extreme security features have gained the interest of some FBI units and overseas U.S. spies.
Does it actually work, though? The company claims it’s the best option out there, and some tech security experts say the Blackphone is indeed a major step up. But only time will tell.
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