Under fire, one could say. A mixed relationship with the Middle East has put RIM in an unfortunate position plagued with security concerns. Still current, the topic draws much attention, but one question remains: what will the future hold for RIM? Take a look as I delved deeper into the subject.
Location: India. Year: 2008. Pakistan-based militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out terror attacks in Mumbai leaving at least 173 people dead, hundreds wounded. Mobile phones, including BlackBerry smartphones, and other handheld gadgets, were used to coordinate the assault. Tensions between India and Pakistan continue to exist and reports of a BlackBerry ban arose, but the telecommunications secretary of the country said "there is no question of banning at this point".
Now, two years later, India is serious about a BlackBerry ban, but allowed RIM to first come into agreement with telecommunication officials prior to any action. Hoping for a resolution, the Indian government has been granted access to monitor BlackBerry Messenger activity, but is seeking access to monitor corporate e-mail as well. The outcome for this will surely be interesting, as RIM had earlier insisted it can not decode corporate e-mail.
Location: United Arab Emirates. Year: 2009. Service provider Etisalat issued an update to its BlackBerry subscribers. Instead of improving performance, as suggested, the update was in fact spyware causing battery drain and malfunctioning. With the potential to access private data without the user's consent, it was a quick call for RIM to correct the problem and provide an update to remove said spyware from affected devices. Following this attempt, the UAE is now planning to suspend BlackBerry services from 11 October. The Emirates' telecommunications regulator said the lack of compliance with local laws raised "judicial, social and national security concerns".
UAE is certainly not alone voicing their concerns over security. Saudi-Arabia had threatened and actually suspended BlackBerry services last month, but eventually lifted the ban citing "positive developments". Whether RIM has granted Saudi-Arabia access to monitor BlackBerry Messenger traffic, as it did with India, remains unclear.
RIM has earned a name in business as the true provider of secure, stable and real-time communication, and has been hard at work maintaining this status since 1996. Why is it then, that Middle Eastern governments are currently tarnishing this image of perfection? As the BlackBerry platform allows for highly encrypted communication, even intelligence agencies have difficulties intercepting data flowing through the BlackBerry network. Unfortunately, this also means that possible misuse of the platform can occur, such as aiding or engaging in acts of terrorism.
Fear of terrorism in many parts of the world is current and real, and the tragic 2008 Mumbai attacks demonstrate very well how technology can aid in terrorism. Taking advantage of encrypted communication, BlackBerry smartphones could, for example, be used for espionage and sharing of secret information with foes. Definitely, the security concerns of Middle Eastern governments are legitimate, as stated by U.S. officials.
Misuse of the BlackBerry platform is not limited to terrorism, though. For instance, the potential for child pornography to exist on the network is inevitable. As BlackBerry traffic is routed through the RIM network operations center (NOC), circumvention of possible Internet filters becomes viable.
It is hard to tell what the future holds for RIM. Currently, RIM is in talks with the Middle East, but I am afraid RIM will face issues elsewhere. For example, the German government has forbidden federal employees to use BlackBerry smartphones, stating the BlackBerry platform is too vulnerable, suggesting the use of the Simko 2 product by T-Systems instead. In addition, the European Commission has rejected support for BlackBerry smartphones with similar concerns as Middle Eastern governments regarding control over the BlackBerry network.
Enterprises and emerging markets are both very important for RIM's future, every move counts. I see BlackBerry going nowhere in the near future, but RIM must be careful not to make mistakes. What do you think?