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Blackphone's app store wants to fix the biggest problem with apps: the amount of data they collect

By Nathaniel Mott , written on December 9, 2014

From The News Desk

Blackphone, a joint venture between Spanish smartphone manufacturer Geeksphone and security company, has revealed its plans to introduce a privacy-focused app store. The marketplace will feature applications which have been examined by the company to make sure they don't request permission to more data than seems necessary to function.

That inspection could help solve one of the biggest problems with mobile software: the inability to control the amount of information a company can gather. Developers often request access to everything from a device's microphone to its address book for seemingly no reason -- while there are ways to limit this data collection on existing platforms, the Blackphone's app store would help ensure a consumer's privacy without any of their input.

Consider Uber's Android application, which was the subject of controversy in November because a security researcher detailed all the information it requests when it's installed, including access to a smartphone's camera, phone calls, text messages, and other data. Blackphone would presumably have caught all those extraneous requests and either forced Uber to remove them from the app or kept the software out of the upcoming marketplace.

This is all part of Blackphone's effort to offer a privacy-focused smartphone platform in the post-Snowden era. The company's eponymous device comes with private communications tools installed by default, bundles secure browsing software with other built-in apps, and allows users to prevent applications from accessing specific aspects of the phone hardware.

But the company wasn't the first to include that feature in its software. Apple offers similar functionalities in its mobile operating system, and Google experimented with a similar tool for Android users before removing it last December, much to the chagrin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As I explained when EFF first complained about Google's decision:

Don’t get me wrong. Learning more about what developers are doing with user data is becoming increasingly important, and it’s certainly a start. But being able to do something about it by disallowing certain information gathering or granting apps specific permissions without allowing them unfettered access to everything on your smartphone would be even better.

Or, put another way: Knowing you’re being spied on is one thing. Being able to do something about it is something else. Blackphone is based on that premise. Thanks to Edward Snowden's whistleblowing and the resulting scrutiny of the data collection practices of both government agencies and private companies, more people than ever know they're being spied on. The Blackphone, and its upcoming software marketplace, are supposed to help them all do something about that.