Research in Motion had once touted its BlackBerry platform based on the strength of the devices’ security, paving way for private, secure messages, but in a post-9/11 world where government and citizens are re-defining priorities between privacy versus national security, is RIM’s attention to security its fatal weakness?
Recently, a number of governments in the Middle East have enacted or are looking to enact bans on BlackBerry smartphones due to RIM’s refusal to budge. Governments want access to information, citing national security concerns, and the United Arab Emirates has announced a ban on BlackBerry smartphones in October. That has prompted US attention and the American government is now concerned about its personnel and people while traveling abroad, for pleasure or business, and what the cost of a BlackBerry ban may mean to US government work, business people, and tourists and travelers in foreign nations. The Obama Administration is now involved as is the State Department to work with RIM and broker deals with countries that have legitimate security concern.
Security of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says, “We are taking time to consult and analyze the full range of interests and issues at stake because we know that there is a legitimate security concern, but there’s also a legitimate right of free use and access.”
While the American government and the US Department of State have been cautious to say that their intervention does not represent an endorsement for RIM nor BlackBerry, a ban on BlackBerry does affect Americans overseas: “So we are directly affected by what has been suggested. But, obviously, we know that both American businessmen, American citizens traveling abroad, the citizens of other countries would be affected as well.”
Beyond security threats and concerns, RIM’s concern is that the company may now be caught between a rock and a hard spot. After having convinced Western governments, like that of the United States, that BlackBerry should be the platform of choice for secure communications, the company simply cannot ease back on security to appease other governments, like the Saudi Arabian government or that of the United Arab Emirates.
Following the lead of some Middle Eastern countries, Indonesia now wants access to messages, data, and communications sent or received on a BlackBerry smartphone–all data must pass through RIM’s servers and these countries are asking, if not demanding, access. To that, RIM has issued its typical response:
The BlackBerry enterprise solution was designed to preclude RIM or any third party, from reading encrypted information under any circumstances, since RIM does not store or have access to the encrypted data.
Any claims that we provide, or have ever provided, something unique to the government of one country that we have not offered to the governments of all countries are unfounded.
As more countries ban BlackBerry use, RIM’s market growth may dwindle and as RIM has less access to new or existing markets, the company can potentially see its market share decline while competitors will be able to take over.
It’d be interesting to see how RIM changes or evolves its business strategy to meet the changing cultural, political, and social climates in a global economic environment, and whether the company can adapt fast enough. As one of the world’s leading smartphone makers with a proprietary operating system and high brand recognition, RIM has also been criticized by some for a dated operating system, to which the company has responded with the BlackBerry 6 OS that will launch with the BlackBerry Torch 9800. However, with threats coming from Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 with Exchange ActiveSync, Google Android with push Gmail for consumers, and Apple’s popular iPhone with a rich UI, RIM’s dedicated email has built the company an empire and new risks from the socio-political global climate is now threatening the collapse of the BlackBerry empire.