Edward Snowden definitely set off a wave of discussion about privacy. and many people are not waiting for legislators to figure out. Instead, they’re taking matters into their own hands.
There are lots of technologies out there that help people keep their communications private. Some of those making news recently include the Blackphone. Here’s how the company describes the product: “Blackphone is the first integrated smartphone from the best privacy minds in the industry. Silent Circle and Geeksphone have partnered to combine best-of-breed hardware with all the skills and experience necessary to offer PrivatOS, an Android based operating system without the usual compromises.”
Silent Circle creates applications that enable a user to send texts, call and video chat with another Silent Circle member over a secure transmission.
It doesn’t stop there. I came across a lot of articles where people, for free, were sharing ways that people can keep themselves private. Some were in jest, while others took the straight-forward approach to encrypting email.
The idea of making messages disappear has become big business for a lot of companies, including Blink, Cyber Dust, Snapchat, and Wiper.
Last month, Future Tense Secure Systems, founded by software pioneer John McAfee, released a new private messaging app called Chadder, that lets users send private, encrypted messages. Wired reported that the messages are so private that Chadder itself does not have access to them.
I spoke with Andrew Defee, lead developer at Future Tense, who told me that there is a trend toward people not wanting to give up social capabilities like sending messages or sharing pictures, but the downside of all of that has been privacy.
“People are seeking alternatives for that — a happy blend — and that is what we are trying to achieve,” he said.
He points out however, that while secret agents can talk on phones that can’t be traced, anything with a phone number can be traced because of the number. It’s harder to trace through an IP address because it can be masked.
One of the “big picture” things he is working on is mesh networking. That’s where someone who isn’t close to an Internet tower can share a connection from someone closer to the tower. It provides some anonymity because everyone is sharing the connection, so rather than seeing an individual, it’s a whole group.
“Envision it like a school of fish, if you are one of the fish, someone won’t be able to pick out just one,” Defee said.
Email snoopers are a problem as well, and Defee said there is a gap because people still heavily rely on email. There could be a secure connection to the email, but there is little else that can be done due to how email is structured.
He mentioned that Google, last year, updated its terms, saying that it was openly collecting data on web history. Then this month, Google said it was working on an encrypted email initiative that would encrypt messages by default.
“Until we shift away from email to other messaging services, there is not a way to get away from the opportunity to get a hold of someone’s communication,” Defee said.
With the possibility of better security and making yourself anonymous, is there a way to monitor criminal activity? Defee thinks it comes down to responsibility as a citizen.
“We as an industry are still in a gray area and trying to figure out the best approach,” he said. “Anonymity should be the focus. A criminal is going to work outside the law, regardless.”
Photo credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr