Rethinking the ubiquitous – the Blackphone and business citizenship

Global encrypted communications company Silent Circle and the Spanish-based handset maker Geeksphone have announced that they are working on a new mobile phone called the Blackphone whose main selling point will be information security. With its catchy name and a purpose snatched from the headlines it’s a phone that should get lots of attention. But Phil Zimmermann, the project’s leader and the man who created PGP encryption, has made clear that this is more than just a gimmick – for him it is a long-held dream made real.

So what does the Blackphone say about business and its place in the world?

Disrupted markets – the Blackphone and handsets

The market for mobile handsets is huge. But anyone who has spent time looking at the latest smartphones can tell you that they are pretty much the same. Most come with the same range of messaging services, the same size camera, enough memory for a mountain of apps and access to a store from which to buy them. Whichever aspect a manufacturer might emphasize they all boil down to the same desires – our communication devices have become playthings.

The Blackphone offers a different approach to that market. Drawing on concerns about the intrusion of government and business into our lives, its message is that a communications device should be secure, secretive and controlled entirely by the user. Everything else is secondary.

This marks a point of disruption for the smartphone market. Perhaps it will trigger a fracturing of that market, as businesses move from marketing the same phone different ways to making genuinely different phones catering to different desires. Or perhaps it will lead a shift towards greater security.

Either way, it shows that genuine innovation is possible.

Disrupted markets – the Blackphone and surveillance

But the Blackphone isn’t only a source of disruption to its own market.

As technologically connected citizens and consumers we all produce data. Collecting, processing and trading in that data is a big business, with customers ranging from marketing departments to spies. It is a market reliant on our compliance, on our continuing to provide it with data.

The Blackphone, and the priorities it encourages, could disrupt that market. Making it harder for governments to gather your data, as well as taking that data away from the companies running mobile networks, it places the interests of the individual citizen above other powers. It is a defense against being taken for granted and if it catches on it could be a hugely disruptive force. Even if it remains a niche product it will skew the perspective of prying organizations by removing its users from their data pools.

Business as citizenship

The Blackphone represents an attempt to rethink the ubiquitous, to no longer take for granted the focus of an everyday tool. But it also represents an example of a new type of business, one whose purpose is not just profit but also shaping politics and society. This is but one example of business citizenship, engaging in and responding to the big issues of the day.

Whether or not the Blackphone is a success remains to be seen. But if nothing else it can act as an inspiration to other businesses. You do not have to be mere profit machines. You can be citizens too.

Image credit: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo