updated 10:25 pm EDT, Sun August 1, 2010
Saudis, UAE ban BlackBerry over desire to spy
The United Arab Emirates warned on Sunday that it would start blocking BlackBerry services in October after fighting with RIM over privacy. Officials claimed that the BlackBerry browser, e-mail and Messenger were security risks because they encrypted data that left the region, preventing them from spying and detecting possible illegal acts. A deliberately anonymous Saudi Arabia telecoms official claimed that his country would do the same, but Saudi Telecom representative Ali Mohammed wasn't aware of plans.
RIM doesn't yet have a comment on the situation. In the past, it has said it respects local laws but also wants to protect the privacy of the companies and individual people that use BlackBerries, since many of these are worried that monitoring would make corporate espionage easier or let governments quash public but peaceful dissent. However, it may have little choice but to choose one or the other as the very nature of the BlackBerry sends most data through central servers in Canada and doesn't have an easy workaround.
The dispute mirrors that two years ago with India, which also objected to the inability to snoop on customers for security reasons.
A full block as planned would cripple RIM's sales in the area, as it would not only prevent the use of a BlackBerry in the affected countries but discourage foreigners from doing business in the area, since they themselves couldn't use some BlackBerry services if they have to get in contact. It may feed directly into increased sales of Android and iPhone devices in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Although their e-mail is standard and more prone to spying, Apple and Google devices don't also force the web through an encrypted channel and use standard instant messaging apps, letting either work even if a local government were to ban certain services.