With all the attention on the vulnerability of cellphone communications to snooping, a number of players are pitching more secure options.
The latest company aiming to get in on the act is FreedomPop, the Niklas Zennstrom-backed carrier startup whose main pitch has been offering free and ultra-low-cost mobile devices.
On Tuesday, FreedomPop is announcing plans to offer the “privacy phone,” a Samsung Galaxy S II modified to offer 128-bit encryption for both voice communication and text messages. Web and other application data traffic will be encrypted as well and sent through a virtual private network.
The carrier is also accepting bitcoin as a payment option, a move it says should boost anonymity for customers.
“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.”
Of course, offering such an old phone raises questions about just how secure the device will be. And while FreedomPop is focusing on encryption of voice calls and texts, it is not hardening the hardware and operating system itself to the degree that Silent Circle and others are.
FreedomPop notes that unlike some older phones, its version of the Galaxy S II is running a Jelly Bean version of Android and is capable of getting further updates. It also will offer the ability to remotely wipe a lost phone and said that using the Galaxy S II was key to offering it for a low price without a subsidy.
FreedomPop says it will sell the Privacy Phone for $189, including three months of unlimited voice, texting and 500MB of monthly data. After three months, that service plan will cost $10 per month.