Privacy-first smartphone company Blackphone is launching its own app store for users concerned about privacy and security.
The Blackphone app store will be available in January and will monitor apps to make sure they do not snoop on users.
“We’ll have a few degrees of vetting,” Blackphone chief executive Toby Weir-Jones told the Guardian. “We’ll validate that the apps will do what they intend – call it the Apple model. If you have an app to manage your social media accounts and it wanted access to your microphone and your camera we might ask why and get on a first screening.”
Several apps have been caught spying on users through leaky permissions systems, accessing unconnected features of smartphones, including an Android torch app that silently sent user location and device data to advertisers, which sparked and investigation and subsequent fine from the US data privacy regulator.
“But we’re not intending to replicate a mass-market app store right now,” said Weir-Jones. “We’re not going to do games or have our own versions of social network apps. We’re much more interested in a private marketplace with quality apps with things that have a broad alignment with our privacy and security focus.”
Most Blackphone users currently use Amazon’s app store ; despite being based on Android the Blackphone doesn’t have access to Google’s Play Store with its million or more apps. The company hopes that the Blackphone app store will help foster innovation, and provide the apps necessary for corporate users as well as user privacy. .
“We want to… reach a wider audience that cares about usability, that cares about intuitive use as well as privacy benefits,” said Weir-Jones.
Along with the app store, Blackphone is also launching new software from Canadian firm Graphite Software called Spaces, which allows users to split their work and private life into two isolated containers on one phone.
A private life “space” could contain a user’s social networks and other private information, while the work space could contain work data. The two spaces are entirely separate, meaning apps in one cannot see or access the other, but the user can switch between the two or more spaces without rebooting the phone.
Opening up the market
These two new features form part of Blackphone’s continued push for corporate users, seizing on the decline of BlackBerry as the primary, security-focused brand for company smartphones. Weir-Jones says corporate users can open up the consumer market.
“The large bulk of our sales will be to enterprise-minded buyers,” said Weir-Jones. “But those people also tend to be quite influential – they go home and talk to friends and family about their devices.
Security technology inherently has a high cost to users, such as restrictions on the types or number of apps or being forced to adopt systems that are difficult to use, but Blackphone wants to tackle this.
“We need to do a better job as an industry at removing the excuses for not using secure and private software,” said Weir-Jones, who admits that Blackphone is unlikely to reach 90% of the market any time soon. “It’s not a light switch and it won’t happen overnight; it requires a lot of effort and education.”
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