Edward Snowden leaks spur new privacy industry

February 21, 2014 4:55 pm

Edward Snowden leaks spur new privacy industry
By Hannah Kuchler in San Francisco

The Edward Snowden leaks revealing a US mass surveillance programme have helped kick-start a new privacy industry as companies rush to fulfil a rising demand for products that protect privacy.
From messaging apps to a smartphone, via tools to control just what social networks know about you, start-ups and large companies are offering ways to keep what is secret, secret – but not necessarily promising to prevent National Security Agency snooping.

Next week, the “Blackphone” will be unveiled, promising to give users back control of their communications. Developed by Silent Circle, an encryption company, and Geeksphone, a Spanish smartphone maker, the company has added extra security features to Android and is advertising the device as useful whether talking to your family or, for corporate users, about your latest acquisition.

Wickr, a secure messaging app that keeps no data whatsoever, started before Mr Snowden leaked documents last summer. But Nico Sell, co-founder of Wickr, said interest in privacy had soared, whether it was keeping information away from the NSA or from companies making money from personal data.

“There has been a tremendous increase in demand in privacy products since the summer of Snowden,” she said. “Over the next 10 years those who will thrive will be companies that offer privacy and security and treat customer data well who have features just as good as Google, Facebook and Microsoft.”

AVG, the antivirus software maker, is one cybersecurity company that is now moving into privacy products. It offers a “privacy fix” tool that customers can use to see exactly what companies like Google and Facebook know about them, and helps them adjust what can be quite confusing settings. It can also protect against retailers tracking someone’s mobile phone around a mall.

Jim Brock, VP of Privacy Product at AVG, said demand for this product had risen after the reports of a mass surveillance campaign by the NSA. People have begun to realise the value of their data and search for a sense of control, he said.

“People are still figuring out this value exchange. I use a free service like Facebook, what is in it for them?” he said, adding the product estimates how much someone’s data are worth to an internet company.

Reputation.com helps individuals and companies suppress Google results that may contain untruths about them and keeps personal data from prying eyes. Michael Fertik, chief executive said it offers a premium product for executives, which is becoming very popular with HR departments.

“The internet has accidentally become a panopticon, where a small number of people can watch everyone else and they don’t know they are being discussed,” he said.

But completely private products remain hard to make. Utimaco, a German company, creates hardware designed not to have any backdoors to the NSA or anyone else. Malte Pollmann, chief executive, warned that some privacy software relies on hardware to generate random numbers, which can be not that random at all.

Mr Pollmann said it can be “fairly easy” to attack a cloud based privacy product if it is not based on the right hardware.

For a long time, a desire for privacy in Europe had been rooted in the public mindset but in the US, privacy had been simply about complying with regulations, for example, in the payments industry, he said.

“Mr Snowden has been one of the best marketing events for the whole cybersecurity industry,” he said.


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