Blackberry owners Beware

Saudi Arabian regulators wanting to control the Blackberry Messenger Service (BBM) is reminiscent of last year’s Etisalat spyware scandal.

Tags: BlackBerryEtisalat International - UAEResearch In MotionSaudi ArabiaUnited Arab Emirates
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Blackberry owners Beware Saudi Arabian regulators want to control the BBM service
By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  March 9, 2010

Some Middle East countries seem to have a love-hate relationship with Blackberry handsets. On the one hand, people in this region love their Blackberry mobiles.

According to Motally's research, most people across the Middle East browse the internet using the BlackBerry 8520 handset, and this is one of the few regions in the world where BlackBerry has an advantage over the iPhone.

Considering its popularity here though, certain telecom providers and regulators in this region seem to have an obsession with monitoring what people text or email on these devices.

News emerged this week that Saudi Arabia’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has asked Canada-based Research In Motion (RIM) to allow the telecoms regulator to monitor messages sent on the BBM service.

Using this messaging service, BlackBerry owners can share messages, IM and multimedia with other BlackBerry owners for a monthly flat fee. CITC wants to monitor messages on BBM for ‘security' reasons, as the likes of Al Qaeda have allegedly been using the free messaging service to communicate secretly.

This need to monitor what is sent on Blackberry devices is reminiscent of the Etisalat Spyware drama in 2009. Etisalat pushed software to its 145,000 BlackBerry subscribers in early July last year that, at first, caused severe battery drain problems, and which experts identified as spyware.

RIM distanced itself from the contentious incident by claiming that it was “not involved in the testing, promotion or distribution of this software application.” RIM went on to confirm and state that the Etisalat update was “not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry, but rather to send received messages back to a central server.”

Etisalat however maintained that it was a ‘performance enhancement patch’ designed to aid 2G to 3G handovers, but the talk around the UAE was that the spyware was designed to monitor users’ emails and texts.

Here’s my call on the situation: Let’s just leave Blackberry owners alone. Even if the likes of Al Qaeda are using the BBM service, does that really warrant that everybody else using the BBM service should be monitored as well? Blackberry devices have helped boost communication technology in this region, and that in itself is a success story. There’s a real risk that people will be discouraged and scared off from using Smartphone handsets because consumers might have the fear of being monitored. The Middle East has made such progress in the last decade with regard to communication technology; let’s not now discourage people from getting and staying connected.

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