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Innovation in Context: Blackphone Technology
The technology of interest is black phones, commonly known as ultra-private smartphones. It is emergent and seeks to secure smartphone users from eavesdropping, and other types of attacks where the person hacking or cracking the system can get information from one’s smartphone. The technology seeks to close the loop that all the other smartphones in the have no concern over; privacy (Tablot). Technology is a human activity, and a face can be attached to every technology discovery according to Sixth Kranzberg’s law (Sacasas). Blackphones’ discovery can be attributed to Phil Zimmerman (Tablot). The black phone is a product developed by the collaboration of American and Spanish tech companies. It began with Phil Zimmerman’s obsession with cryptography. Blackphones only entered the market in 2019, and they have a market share. Privacy is the unique feature in these devices, but they still sell at a very high market price relative to competitors’ products. I will investigate the circumstances and cause of the discovery and development of black phones; their consequences; connections and concepts.
The black phone technology embraces different levels of security protocols borrowed from past successes and new inventions to make a secure smartphone device. The discovery of scientific design, technology is one of them, is not a long continuous process (Kuhn 760). However, in this case, the technique of interest is not a single discovery. It is a series of developments that have been brought together into a single product. Some of the security features in the black phone such as the “Pretty Good Privacy” feature has been a market product discovered by Zimmerman and sold by Silent Circle (Wood). There are other security measures such as the Private OS, which is new, but it also contains additional features in it, some old concepts, and some new concepts combined (Tablot). As a result, it can be argued that the black phone does not fit into Kuhn’s description of the time taken to complete a scientific invention, but most features within the black telephone at the individual level provides in the story of spontaneous discoveries. After realizing that the NSA had a chance to spy on every smartphone user in the United States and beyond, Zimmerman began designing a cryptography system that could have the capacity to lock out the NSA (Tablot).
Silent Circle was started by Zimmerman to deal with designing cryptography and other privacy and data security software products (Tablet). The technologies have been found to have the capacity to encrypt text messages, phone calls and any separate file attached (Tablot). One of its features, the pretty good privacy, is an encryption system that can encrypt emails. Zimmerman developed it. The technology can achieve an end to end encryption of emails, texts, directories, and entire disk partitions. It also can decrypt the items on the other end, since it is an end-to-end encryption system. It is known to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks (Anugurala and Chopra 12-14). Phone calls, messages, and files are sent through silent circle servers, and they are decrypted to the other end of the communication. Even though the technology seeks to use encryption and calls have to go through their servers, the manufacturers of the black phone have promised that the phones will be even faster than other smartphones (Anugurala and Chopra 12-14). The phones will have a private-OS which is an android version that allows for the encryptions and high privacy protocols.
Technology is mainly developed because of many public issues because non-technical factors guide most of the technology policy decisions (Sacasas). Blackphone was not emergent because a technology came up. It emerged because a need for privacy arose with fear of the public concerning mobile security. The tech came to be because of loopholes noted in the privacy of other smartphone gadgets. It was announced in 2014 before making any sale in a smartphone during a world global congress in Spain. Silent Circle was previously selling security protocols but realized that they were not solving the problem of privacy since most of the smartphone manufactures had no interest in boosting privacy for the users of their phones. Following statistics that 85% of Americans are concerned about the applications they use and their privacy, and that there was no action being taken, Silent Circle saw a need to come up with an almost secure device that will close loopholes in confidentiality.
Furthermore, there are many examples and cases given of violation of privacy by man-in-the-middle attackers and governments. This is common with smartphone users since smartphone manufacturers consider all the other developments but fail to enhance phone security. The US national security collects big data from cloud computing as well as through bisecting local people’s calls. It can tell the number of times that an ordinary person is called, and the number of people called. In addition to governments, there is another class of people who are seeking to target specific buyers for their products. In this regard, many retailers, wholesalers, advertisers, and many other people in products’ markets try to get specific information concerning one’s private life, for instance, one’s internet browsing history, one’s interests, and other parameters that assist them to know the exact product one may be interested in (Talbot).
Zimmerman himself was working as a software developer by day, and at night he had an excellent course; he was trying to maintain the world’s peace. He was working to freeze nuclear weapons at night, but he got caught in the process (Wood). He was concerned about how his activities were known to the NSA, and this was the beginning of his mission to lock out the NSA through the development of encryptions. Zimmerman realized several ways through which phones leak data to the NSA and the advertisers. He saw a room of improvement and tested some encryption protocols which are still in the trial but have a high capacity of locking out uninvited sniffers in one’s smartphone’s activities (Wood).
While, the background of the black phone technology is distinct, there are only perceived consequences, considering that the technology has been in use for only a few months since the first products were sold. The implications of the black phone include fear and further security developments by existing smartphone manufacturers to regain the market share already taken up by black phone. According to Wood also mentioned that it would be sold at the region of $600, but its tablet model Blackphone6, had no price tag yet (Wood). Regardless of this high pricing of the product relative to its counterpart smartphones, it still attracted the market even before it was launched. According to Lawson, the first disbursement of the black phone was to be released to the market in July 2014, and it was expected that millions were to be shipped, with some customers having already ordered thousands before the product was already in the market. This, however, did not happen because the product will be launched in 2019 (Lawson). This implies that the other smartphone manufacturers might need to enhance privacy features to regain a part of the market that will need privacy, which might be increasing with time.
Furthermore, perceived security concerns due to black phone technology cannot be ignored. Kranzberg’s second law as “invention is the mother of necessity” (Sacasas). Blackphones have been developed, but one consequence is that they will need further development such as features to identify and keep off terrorists (King). The second consequence is that there may be negative impacts that include empowering the activities of terrorists and criminals. According to King, Blackphone (the company) has the intention of selling its black phone technology to an individual target market that excludes terrorists and criminals (King). This was not considered in the development of the devices, but after noting it, Silent Circle has taken its chances to weather the problem. The contributor mentions that the company’s CEO posted a blog that suggested that their paid subscription to security services would start vetting the client’s financial information. This will be an attempt to understand the activities of the users to avoid offering terrorists’ and criminals’ anonymity as they go on with activities such as credit card fraud (King).
There are many reasons as to why we should be concerned about black phones. First of all, black phones have been labeled ultra-private phones, but currently, even as new as they are in the market, they are not entirely private. The CEO of Silent Circle admitted to the fact that nothing is entirely closed to the NSA. Other reports also mention that hackers can be able to attack the phone. Even though it is the most secure phone, it is not immune to a privacy breach (Wood). As a result, if any reader of this research paper will use a black phone now or in the future, they still will have to be cautious with personal information and data. Secondly, it is essential that the reader notes that the security features of the black phone do not slow down the phone (Wood). Thirdly, knowledge of the fact that the black phone is mainly meant for corporate or organizational use is explicit. This is primarily so considering the cost of the phone, the fact that there will be subscription fees to security features, and the fact that having one user using a black telephone and another using a different type of phone may still expose their conversation from the end that is not encrypted (Wood).
In conclusion, it is clear that the abstract idea of the invention or discovery and development of black phones is more of a continuous process of discovery than it is an automatic discovery. Considering Kuhn categorizes discoveries into spontaneous discoveries such as oxygen and the second category of theoretically predicted discoveries such as radio waves (Kuhn 761), it is right to classify black phones with the latter. This is because their discovery was predicted with as smartphone security concerns heightened. Additionally, the product is not perfect as expected, so it is mainly a theoretical concept under development. Some remaining elements in the technology include lack of sufficient terrorists and criminals locking out features as well as security against government spying (King). It also teaches that although technology is a prime element of many public issues, it is general issues that lead to technology decisions. This is following Kranzberg’s fourth law (Sacasas). Blackphones are an exciting and essential development since privacy is currently at risk. However, the technology has to be perfected before it can be proven to serve its purpose ultimately.
Anugurala, Anuradha, and Anshu Chopra. “Securing and preventing man in middle attack in grid using open pretty good privacy (PGP).” 2016 Fourth International Conference on Parallel, Distributed and Grid Computing (PDGC). IEEE, 2016.
Kuhn, Thomas S. “The Historical Structure of Scientific Discovery’.” Bull. GeoL Soc. China 14 (1935): 161-178.
Lawson, Stephen. “Blackphones Coming in Three Weeks, Will Ship in Millions, Backers Say.” IDG News Service(June 10, 2014). Retrieved from https://www.cio.com/article/2375591/blackphones-coming-in-three-weeks–will-ship-in-millions–backers-say.html
Sacasas, L. M. “Kranzberg’s Six Laws of Technology, a Metaphor, and a Story.” L.M. Sacasas, 17 Mar. 2019, thefrailestthing.com/2011/08/25/kranzbergs-six-laws-of-technology-a-metaphor-and-a-story/.
Talbot, David. “Ultraprivate Smartphones New models built with security and privacy in mind reflect the Zeitgeist of the Snowden era.”MIT Review (2019). [HTML] retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/526496/ultraprivate-smartphones/
Wood, Collins. “In February, a team of Spanish mobile phone makers and security experts will unveil a new phone to fight government intrusion.” Government Technology (Jan 16, 2014). [Web] Retrieved from https://www.govtech.com/products/Can-the-New-Blackphone-Combat-NSA-Spying.html
Wood, Molly. ”Blackphone Announces New Privacy-Oriented Phone and Tablet.” The New York Times (March 2, 2015). [Web] Retrieved from https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/02/blackphone-announces-new-privacy-oriented-phone-and-tablet/