Want to shield text, photos from government? Wickr says it has an app for that

The U.S. government has acknowledged — with President Obama saying this morning in San Jose that it’s all in the name of security — that its agencies are spying on Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications in some fashion. There are tech tools that claim they can get around such surveillance, and one of them is Wickr, an app made by a San Francisco startup.

Wickr is similar to Snapchat, the popular app that allows users to destroy messages and photos sent on mobile phones after a certain time. But the 1-year-old company’s app is “military grade,” founder Nico Sell said in a phone interview this morning.

Sell says Wickr users can “send text messages, videos, documents that self-destruct — all encrypted, and it exceeds NSA top-level encryption on the device before it goes out on network with a key that only you have.”

“Very few people in the world can do what we’ve done,” Sell said. She says she has advocated for the annual Defcon hacking conference for more than a decade. The company’s other founders include a team of privacy and security experts, according to a spokeswoman.

If the government comes knocking with a subpoena, Wickr could turn over its database, but the information would be “useless,” Sell said, because the company doesn’t collect personal information about its users. It claims to have no call logs or location data. This also means such information is inaccessible to wireless providers, advertisers and other companies that usually collect it.

Sell touts Wickr as an alternative to messaging offered by Whatsapp and Skype. Skype, the service owned by Microsoft, has long been thought as secure. But experts quoted by CNNMoney and others have warned that no tech tool is immune to tracking, and Skype looks to be no exception. Ars Technica recently reported that Microsoft regularly scans messages. 

Could Wickr do something similar? “This is a big thing with us. It was a huge requirement that we never collected private information, period,” Sell said.

The app is free for iOS users only for now. Sell said an Android version, and voice calling, are due out this summer.


Image courtesy of Wickr


Levi Sumagaysay Levi Sumagaysay (4265 Posts)

Levi Sumagaysay is editor of the combined SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. She also helps take care of SiliconValley.com, the Mercury News tech website. Email: lsumagaysay@bayareanewsgroup.com