On the eve of unveiling its newest operating system, Research in Motion was facing an unenviable problem: a growing number of Middle East governments have been threatening to cripple or ban its phones. Apparently, the devices are too difficult for certain authoritarian governments to hack, which makes it hard to enforce certain laws (no criticizing the government, no viewing porn, etc.). Faced with the choice between ruining its brand—RIM’s smartphones are prized for their security—and being banned from rapidly growing markets, RIM has apparently bit the bullet and acquiesced.
According to the Globe and Mail:
India’s Economic Times newspaper reported that RIM had agreed to allow security authorities in the country to monitor BlackBerry services after pressure from governments worried about national security.
Separately Kuwaiti daily al-Jarida, quoting a source it did not identify by name, said RIM had given “initial approval” to block 3,000 porn sites at the request of Kuwait’s communications ministry. It said security was also a concern.
The two reports follow the announcement on Sunday that the United Arab Emirates would suspend BlackBerry Messenger, email and Web browser services from October 11 unless it could access encrypted messages.
This is just one report, and an early one that relies on second-hand sources at that. But RIM wouldn’t be the first global company to have to knuckle under to demands from more, ahem, security-conscious governments. Google is engaged in a long-running dispute with the Chinese government, and Microsoft has had its tussles with Beijing as well.
Will this hurt RIM? Given that a recent survey showed half of American BlackBerry users were looking at Apple or Android phones before this announcement, it wouldn’t shock us. That said, who can forget that big kerfuffle over Facebook’s privacy settings, where a whopping 0.01% of users deleted their accounts? Maybe in 2010 a company can get away with this kind of thing.