FreedomPop unveils 'Privacy Phone' to focus on security for voice, texting

Sprint (NYSE:S) MVNO FreedomPop is unveiling an encrypted smartphone designed to protect voice calls and text messages from being hacked. The phone is the latest product to respond to increased reports of government snooping, even into mobile devices.

FreedomPop's "Privacy Phone"

FreedomPop said that its "Privacy Phone" is a reconfigured Samsung Electronics Galaxy S II, which debuted in 2011. FreedomPop has dubbed the device the "Snowden phone" in homage to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

The phone costs $189 without a contract and is equipped with 128-bit encryption. It also has a built-in VPN to help users surf the Web anonymously. As CNET notes, the phone comes with unlimited voice and texting. FreedomPop adds in 500 MB of monthly data access for the first three months and then charges $10 a month after that. Users can buy the phone anonymously via Bitcoin and request a new phone number as often as they want.

According to Re/code, users will be able to remotely wipe a lost phone.

"In light of recent violations in consumer's privacy across social networks and mobile devices, privacy is becoming increasingly important to many Americans and we all have a right to communicate anonymously," FreedomPop COO Steven Sesar said in a statement. "Large carriers don't have the flexibility, desire or creativity to invest in privacy. We don't agree with this approach and felt it was up to us to create a truly private mobile phone service at an affordable price."

The NSA and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, have been targeting smartphone applications as part of a years-long surveillance effort to gather data such as smartphone users' locations and the unique identifying characteristics of their phones, according to documents leaked by Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

The documents, which were leaked to and reported on by the New York Times, the Guardian and ProPublica in January, reveal that as far back as 2007, when the first iPhone was introduced, the NSA and GCHQ were collaborating on how to collect and store data from dozens of smartphone apps. The best source of data they found was from so-called leaky apps that send out location and other identifying data.

According to the reports, the scale and the specifics of the data is that is collected via these methods are unclear. However, the reports note that some personal data, developed in profiles by advertising companies, could be particularly sensitive.

However, because the Galaxy S II is an old phone, and because the Android operating system itself is not encrypted, it's unclear how apps and other data services will be protected.

Further, FreedomPop is not exactly the first company to try to create encrypted phones for customers. Silent Circle is a startup looking to create a highly secure Android device, which it calls Blackphone. Additionally, Ziklag Systems has created what it calls the FortressFone, which has a modified Android kernel and 256-bit encryption to provide security for voice and data transmission and protect against third-party servers.

For more:
- see this Re/code article
- see this TechCrunch article
- see this CNET article
- see this Engadget article

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