I have spent the past month testing out a new app, Sudo, for use as an additional tool in the privacy toolbox and so far I am excited about what I have seen. Digital Trends provided a bit of background which I will summarize for you here as we take a look at how this new app may assist privacy enthusiasts.
Background: In a connected world with an abundance of state-sponsored surveillance, wide-ranging account breaches, and crafty telemarketers with endless supplies of throwaway phone numbers, achieving even a semblance of privacy is a task that is a daily struggle. Surveys show as much: According to the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of internet users have taken steps to remove or mask their digital activity, but many say they’d like to do more.
Sudo claims to help solve this problem, and is currently available for iOS, macOS. It’s an app that operates on the concept of “avatars”: Load up Sudo for the first time and you’re prompted to fill in for one of nine “virtual identities,” each of which is associated with a phone number, email address, credit card number, and even profile picture. They are digital, fictional profiles you can use for services, websites, and apps to which you’d rather not supply your personal information. The app does not ask for your phone number as a verification method, and you do not create a log in/password combination to use any of the features it provides.
Each of Sudo’s phone numbers is a working line that accepts both messages and phone calls, including those sent from landlines, mobile phones, and select international sources. Email addresses have an inbox with support for receiving and archiving up to one gigabyte of mail. As I tested each feature of this app, the calling, text messages, and emails worked flawlessly for incoming and outgoing communication. The app uses your phone’s data connection and also works in wifi only mode.
Sudos (your profiles) live as long as you want. You can delete one after a week, or devote a profile to activities like online shopping, social networking, or calling. They allow you to compartmentalize your digital life, and pre-plan for scenarios where you need to provide a working phone number, or email address to businesses or individuals.
The app allows the user to digitally distance themselves from seedy merchants, unfamiliar landscapers, real-estate agents, or even annoying strangers who they do not want to provide real information to. You can organize the profiles into identities that you use to protect your real personal information. You no longer have to leave your real phone number and email address with untrusted people. It provides an additional layer of disinformation which you can control in any given scenario. Once the profiles are set up (which only takes a few minutes) you are ready to use them as you go about your life.
Payments are the app’s final (and arguably most significant) element, and they work like Apple Pay. Add a debit card or credit card and Sudo Pay generates a sort of digital veneer in the form of a digital Mastercard with a number and expiration date. Merchants never see your payment information — instead, they receive a randomized token associated with the payment method of your choice. Sudo’s payments app only supports online payments right now. I have not tested this aspect to the service yet but it looks like a promising compliment to other payment solutions like Blur or Privacy.com.
It should be noted that Sudo raises some privacy concerns because all emails, messages, and calls are routed through its parent company Anonyme Labs’ dedicated servers. The app claims that Sudo retains “zero knowledge” about the users, and it couldn’t pull up personal details even if they wanted to. The system is secured end to end — when you download the app for the first time, the encryption key stays on your device. Sudo was developed by Steve Shillingford, an entrepreneur and cyber-security expert. His blog (https://medium.com/control-shift) provides background information on his company and the reasons why he developed the app as a solution to growing privacy concerns. “We don’t store anything that isn’t encrypted,” Shillingford said. “Everything [Anonyme’s servers] get is encrypted gibberish.”
Sudo remains a privately funded project, but the company is considering different ways to monetize by offering premium services. In the future, it might charge a small in-app fee for additional Sudos or levy a small fee on larger email inboxes, Shillingford said. Phone number customization is another potential revenue generator — you might be able to buy a number by ZIP code or secure a premium 1-800 number — as are custom domain email addresses. But Shillingford stressed that it won’t stick any of Sudo’s free features behind a paywall. “Privacy is important,” he said. “[And] people should be able to control how much they have and how much they give away. We want to give people flexibility and freedom.”
So far, Sudo appears to be a great new tool and I would encourage you to explore how it may be useful to you as another tool. The company’s CEO has agreed to be a guest on The Complete Privacy & Security podcast in the future to answer questions about the app which should be a great opportunity to learn even more about the company. Until then, I will continue using this app on a limited basis in scenarios that call for the features it provides. For me it is simply another tool that compliments my strategy that is already in place. It hasn’t replaced anything yet, but it does offer other options, which is always a good thing.