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Davos 2016

January 20, 2016


CNBC Davos

It’s commonplace for many people nowadays to broadcast their lives on the Internet through social media platforms such as Facebook andTwitter.

But openly providing personal information online can result in identity theft, said Nico Sell, co-founder of Wickr, a smartphone app that says it provides military-grade encryption of peer-to-peer text, photo, audio and video messages.

“Think about the digital footprint that you’re leaving online everyday and try minimize it in ways that are easy enough for you to do,” Sell told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in an interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In one of the most visible aspects of her own privacy measures, Sell wears sunglasses whenever cameras are around. “It’s really not for facial recognition, it’s more human recognition,” she said. “It’s amazing people from high school won’t recognize me [with glasses]. I take off my sunglasses and walk around and [other] people don’t recognize me.”

Sell believes she’s not alone in wanting to remain as anonymous as possible. She said younger teenagers generally look to protect their online presence perhaps more than their older classmates or the 20-somethings and 30-somethings who share their lives with abandon.

Wickr says it does not collect user data. As more and more people seek privacy online, Sell said, “The business model that will rule the next decade is one that is not made off of big data because big data is really hard to secure.”

“I think hoarding it will cause more harm,” she added, referring to sites that use personal data to sell advertising.

As an offshoot of the for-profit Wickr, Sell has created the nonprofit Wickr Foundation, which advocates for secure communications around the world.

“It’s a real mistake to say privacy and security are not on the same side,” Sell said, reacting to questions about whether Wickr app provides terrorists with the ability to conduct untraceable communications.

“Those people fighting terrorists use Wickr everyday,” she continued. “I’m also all about protecting us from terrorists. And this is how we do it, by having secure communications.”

Sell said there’s no “backdoor” into Wickr’s platform. “It makes both dealing with law enforcement a lot easier because we don’t have anything that we could give them. It makes a lot easier to defend from hackers.”

“The more data that you have the more you have to protect,” she stressed.

These kinds of discussions about navigating the evolution of the digital age are central to the theme at Davos this year, “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” as technologies blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.