Sunday, 1 August 2010

The UAE BlackBerry Ban: Barmy

A photograph of the BlackBerry CurveImage via Wikipedia
Why does all the fun happen when I'm away? Woke up today to the news that the UAE is to block BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry E-mail and BlackBerry web-browsing following a ruling by telecom regulator the TRA.

Gulf News online reports the story, which WAM broke today as far as I can see from over here. The National's story is here. Etisalat has made a statement which includes the immortal words, "BlackBerry data is immediately exported off-shore, where it is managed by a foreign, commercial organisation."

Oh, the LOLs, from a country where all requests to browse the web are immediately referenced to, errr, foreign, commercial organisations. Unless something's changed since the McAfee acquisition, US security company Secure Computing used to parse all searches to make sure that we weren't being exposed to all the naughtiness and stuff that's out there. We weren't so shy about 'foreign commercial organisations' then, were we folks?

BlackBerry customers were, infamously, not subject to the arbitrary restrictions of the block list. Many will remember the furore that erupted, extensively discussed on this very blog, which appeared to be a muckle-headed attempt on the part of the Telco That Likes To Say Ugh, Etisalat, to cludge security software intended for other purposes into an attempt to introduce surveillance and monitoring capabilities to the otherwise hard to intercept BB.

It's interesting for telecom regulation watchers that the customer is to be harmed extensively as a result of this move by a regulator, a class of organisation that is everywhere in the world tasked with holding the customers interests as one of its primary goals. The Telcos are being forced to breach their compact with their users (The vast majority of people bought BlackBerrys precisely with this very functionality as their primary reason for buying in) and tens of thousands of devices have been rendered basically unfit for purpose overnight.

I look forward to this move being 'clarified'. As it stands, it's yet another attempt to bomb ourselves back into the digital stone age. The madness of it all is that nothing has changed about the BlackBerry or the way in which the device works - and nothing has changed (correct me, please, if I'm wrong) in the 'moral and cultural' environment, or indeed the regulatory environment, since the BB was first introduced to the UAE - it has always worked using the company's own servers which underpinned the very services that CrackBerry users find so very appealing. If you can't live with it now - you shouldn't have sold it to us back then.

Will customers be offered refunds for the now barely functional hunks of black and chrome plastic they hold in their hands? Or will Etisalat and Du be offering free plastic covers that say 'I am browsing happily. Carry on as normal.'???

PS: In a move that appears to highlight that this move is being prompted by security concerns more than anything else, WAM has published an odd document that purports to 'compare the existing telecom regulations of the US, UK and UAE' but which is actually something of a 'dossier' that appears intended to justify the idea that a regulator can just turn around and delete a service being accessed by tens of thousands of consumers. It's a long read, but it's here.

Right. I'm going back on holiday...


Anonymous said...

I honestly think that the TRA is just bluffing as part of their negotiations with BB. Remember: this is a place where public statements are made and then retracted shamelessly (e.g no alcohol in food, national IDs, etc etc.) So they are now trying to put pressure on BB by going public with this. BB will somehow compromise eventually, as they have in China, it seems.

James O'Hearn said...

I'm not so sure that RIM will compromise here the way they did in China. China represents a massive market, and pretty much any company that sets up there expects to make some compromises. But the UAE? Not really that big a market. Regardless of how much the BB's are loved here, the UAE is not a huge market, and compromises of the sort that RIM is being asked to make could potentially hurt RIM more in PR than they would lose by not acceding to the request. In the aftermath of antenna-gate, Apple would mercilessly pounce on RIM over this issue.

nzm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nzm said...

This will impact on the BB-using business travellers coming into the UAE. Their phones will be rendered useless for their purpose, and will become impotent hip ornaments.

Alexander: I love the term "muckle-headed" - trademark it before someone else does!

Seabee said...

I agree with you James - but it's already spread to The Magic Kingdom and and I won't be surprised if it becomes standard in the GCC. RIM may compromise, as they have in India, China etc, on that basis.

I have the feeling that we'll see many more countries playing the security card on devices like this too.

Doug said...

It's a massive PR own goal though - if RIM do capitulate to GCC/UAE demands, it won't change anything.

Everyone outside of the UAE will either think that BBs are still banned OR they'll think that UAE government is actively prying into their privacy and wants to spy on them.

Either way, it kills off any desire to do business here.

Gnomad said...

A related item can be found at:

kasra said...

I have a few questions:
1- Did they know about the security feature of BB from the beginning or just have found it recently? if they knew it why they didn't raise the issue before having a contract with BB and trapping so many customers.
2- Where sits "the end user rights"? It's like DEWA knocks your door and says"From tomorrow you won't have power and water, we instead will give you 4 AA size batteries, if you want more ,then pay for it!
3- Homeland security or sex traffic are just excuses. Who gives the rights to Etisalat to disrespect our privacy and put his nose in our communications at the first place? Do you remember, Etisalat even tried in 2009 to patch the BB OS by a kind of Trojan applet ,the one he called "Software update" to illegally monitor the communications. The applet failed due to its heavy load on the battery while it was trying to transfer everything to its local server, somewhere in Etisalat office, it was even transferring the phone-book of the user. RIM objected on Etisalat unauthorized approach to patch the BB OS.
4- Etisalat can be sued by the customers due to his breach from the contract and its unilateral termination.

i*maginate said...

Gold medal, please, as I bought a new BB in the height of the news. Hope you got this via your BB.

Tala said...

Hey Alexander,

I found our blog around 5 months ago... I'm the author of forkitoverdubai I think you came accross it once. I was actually looking for authors that write bioraphies and your name showed up on one of the websites... I have a budget in place for a biography to be written would you happen to know who would be able to help me with this project? Thanks so much sorry for the random request.
Plz let me know.


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