Blackphone Confirms Privacy-Focused App Store And Device Sandboxes Incoming

BlackPhone, the post-Snowden, pro-privacy Android smartphone joint venture between secure comms company Silent Circle and phone maker Geeksphone, has confirmed it will be adding an app store to its PrivatOS in an update early next year.

The major update will also roll out another new feature called ‘Spaces’. This will enable users to segment activity on their device by creating multiple secure spaces for particular apps, accounts or data. The feature will be powered by Canadian company Graphite Software‘s OS-level virtualization software.

Speaking to TechCrunch back in October Blackphone co-founder Jon Callas indicated an app store was incoming, detailing a plan to expand its hardened Android OS to include a curated app store experience — offering third party apps it has selected and vetted/reviewed for potential security concerns.

The Blackphone device and startup business is an attempt to consumerize the hard problem of security and privacy within a familiar-looking Android wrapper, and by bolting on multiple third party services to put secure alternatives for essentials such as cloud storage within easy reach (as well as bundling up the cost of their initial subscription in with the phone).

But one major usability trade-off with Blackphone thus far has been the lack of a pre-loaded app store. Users can download and add stores to their device after purchase but that requires at least a degree of legwork. Adding its own privacy-focused store to the OS is therefore a natural next step — given it will expand the utility of the device while apparently maintaining high standards of user privacy.

However it’s also a trade-off, given that running third party software introduces more security risks. That’s presumably why Blackphone is combining the launch of an app store with the addition of virtualized secure Spaces — to offer another sandboxed layer to help safeguard data on the device.

The latter feature is likely to appeal to corporate buyers especially, since it enables companies to remotely configure and manage corporate Spaces on a Blackphone device, and the user to have just the one device for work and person use, securely separating out their personal apps and content from work apps and content. Much like BlackBerry’s Balance feature, in fact.

Blackphone said today that its app store will arrive in January and will feature a selection of apps that it has chosen as “the most secure privacy-optimized apps on the market”.

The update will also roll out a default “Silent Space”, which will include its Silent Suite of apps for encrypted communication, along with the app store, plus “a bundle of pre-loaded privacy apps”. Users will then also be able to spec out additional Spaces on the device, as they desire — such as, for instance, a child-friendly bucket with access to a sub-set of apps.

It will certainly be interesting to see how tightly Blackphone curates the apps in its own store. The number of apps on the store will doubtless intentionally remain far fewer than on major app stores, such as Google Play. And may avoid including certain categories altogether, such as games.

Callas previously told TechCrunch the store could include different security review tiers for apps as a way for users to navigate the risks of running third party content. And that it may also include apps that some might consider insecure by design (such as social media apps which focus on sharing), or make it easier for users to download other app stores.

“We’re going to do things like security reviews of apps. We’re going to review their privacy policies. We’re going to put a security and privacy seal of approval on them. But we also want to be able to have people go download their favorite game. Everyone’s addicted to something — Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga… And we don’t want to be having to security review games. So you go to one of these other stores to get the fun things and we cover the unfun things like email clients, things like that, which we have gone and done a review on,” he said at the time.