clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nico Sell of Wickr Says She Is "Properly Paranoid" (Full Video)

"I keep my digital footprint small," said the private messaging app founder at our Code/Mobile conference.

Asa Mathat

Nico Sell doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter, she wears sunglasses when photographed and she hands out business cards with no email address. She puts stickers over webcams, jams blockers into headphone jacks and keeps her passport and credit cards in an RFID-blocking case.

Sell’s teenage daughter got in trouble with her mother for uploading a picture to Instagram — not for the reasons most teenagers get in trouble — because the photo of the family dog included metadata that revealed the location of their home.

“We talked about this! You know not to post pictures on social media sites that own everything you do for eternity,” Sell told her.

It’s not a stunt, it’s a way of life. “I keep my digital footprint small,” Sell explained onstage at our Code/Mobile conference. “I would say I’m properly paranoid.”

Sell is an organizer of the hacking conference Defcon and CEO of the private messaging app Wickr, which has raised some $40 million in funding.

Part of what Sell is doing is advocacy against what she calls “minimum viable product disease,” where other technology startups release products before properly designing them to be private, or considering future business model implications for users.

She’s also pushing her own product, which offers encrypted and self-destructing mobile messaging.

Wickr has four million downloads so far, which is substantial, but nothing like the explosive popularity of competitors like WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Sell admitted it’s hard to grow usage of an app that’s truly based on security and anonymity. But she said, “I think what we’ve invented is bacterial growth instead of viral growth, a little bit more more like yogurt than a disease. It’s beneficial to society.” She is also pursuing an aggressive branding strategy to make “top-secret messaging” cool, and last week announced that Wickr will be sponsoring the first-ever women’s big-wave surf event at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay.

For more of Sell and her privacy tips — which include posting fake birthdays online to confuse identity thefts — watch the full Code/Mobile video below:

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.