RIM has had a tough time over the past few weeks and months, with being blamed for the London riots; flagging sales of BlackBerry phones; non-existent sales of PlayBooks; and then the entire network coming down for a few days. But things might be getting worse as the company has conceded to the Indian government’s demands for listening in to supposedly encrypted messages between BlackBerry users.
The Indian government had threatened to ban BlackBerry sales in the emerging economy if RIM did not give it access to this information – but one of the major reasons for users picking BlackBerry phones has always been privacy and encryption, and this will no longer be the case. Enterprise users won’t be affected by this decision as RIM doesn’t hold the encryption keys to their messages (only the company running the network for its employees does), but it certainly won’t fill anyone with confidence. BlackBerry appears to have hung up its cap as a defender of users’ privacy.
RIM does not generally discuss the agreements it has with national governments about wiretapping users’ messages, and it is likely that many Western governments and security services already have such options at their disposal – but this sets a precedent. Will Blackberry offer the same services to the repressive regimes of Saudi Arabia or Syria? What determines whether a government can or cannot have access to this information? All that we can be sure of is that the certainty that users felt they could communicate in private is gone – and that was the main reason for buying BlackBerrys in the first place. Without it, there is little reason for users not to pick an iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy Nexus – so this could be the beginning of the end for BlackBerry.