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INTERNET SPACE
Wickr app aims to safeguard online privacy
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) Feb 1, 2013


Crazy Talk gives voice to pictures
San Francisco (AFP) Feb 1, 2013 - There was Crazy Talk at Macworld on Friday.

In the middle of an expo show floor where people touted software, services, accessories and more for Apple gadgets and those who love them, there was an animated cat talking back.

Actually, it was repeating whatever anyone said.

"You could take a photo of a car, a baby, a cat, a politician, whatever you want, and bring it to life with your voice or a recorded voice," John Martin of Reallusion said as he demonstrated the firm's Crazy Talk application.

Crazy Talk manipulates points on faces in images to make it appear as though the person or character in a picture is speaking with the words provided by the puppeteer.

The software, tailored for Macintosh computers, has been put to work on popular US television programs Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Jon Stewart Show, according to its creators.

Kimmel's studio used Crazy Talk to power a comedy sketch of Osama Bin Laden speaking from hell, Martin said.

The application is also used to make language learning more fun in some Silicon Valley grade schools, according to Reallusion, which has its headquarters in the California city of San Jose.

Crazy Talk jumped onto the "best of 2012" list at the Mac App Store after being made available there in November at a price of $30.

Versions of the software designed for use on iPhones or iPads will be released later this year, according to Martin.

Wickr co-founder Nico Sell is working toward "geek utopia," a world where people hold the power when it comes to who sees what they share on the Internet or from their phones.

The startup's services -- giving users of Apple gadgets uncrackable communications that can self-destruct -- were beefed up this week, just in time for reports of cyber spies trying to snoop on Western journalists covering China.

The free software, available at Apple's online App Store, was enhanced to let people send encrypted file attachments programmed to erase themselves. The original service, released in June, only worked on the data within text, picture, video and voice messages.

"It shows the bigger vision of where we are going," Sell said Friday.

"We plan on overlaying this protocol on every communication channel that exists in the online world," continued Sell, a key behind-the-scenes figure at the famous Def Con hacker gathering that takes place annually in Las Vegas.

"It's geek utopia, and we think we can get to it."

Wickr has a patent pending on technology which Sell said could give people ways to safeguard anything they send or put online, even digital bytes in Internet telephone calls or posts to leading social network Facebook.

"We expect to have it all covered by the end of the year," Sell said. "The idea is you would use Wickr to interact with all the other networks."

Wickr will evolve to be able to hide pictures posted at Facebook behind "decoy images," with permission needed to look behind the masks, according to company co-founder Robert Statica.

"There will be a decoy image that the public sees, and you clear your friends or your group to see the real image," explained Statica, a professor of information technology at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

"We will let people make regular Facebook posts if they don't care about privacy."

Unlike many other apps, Wickr is designed not to store any information mined from people's contact lists.

"Right now Facebook has all my contact information even though I boycott Facebook, because a bunch of my friends uploaded it with their contact lists," Sell said. "This needs to change as an industry."

The Wickr app has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times in more than 110 countries since the software crafted for iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch devices hit the App Store, according to the co-founders.

"Private communication is a universal human right," Sell said. "Freedom: there's an app for that."

The San Francisco-based startup behind the software is working on versions of Wickr for smartphones or tablets powered by Google-backed Android software.

Wickr's business plan is to have hundreds of millions of people globally use the free versions of the application while a small percentage opt to pay for premium features such as being able to control larger data files.

"We are trying to flip messaging on its head and give control to the sender instead of the receiver or the servers in between," Sell said.

"We can't expect these cloud services to protect our privacy; we need to do it ourselves."

More information about the application was available online at mywickr.com.

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