Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Blackberry saga

Blackberries are big news.

Big news here and worldwide, because of the threatened ban on parts of the Blackberry service. I've just been listening to a piece about it on Sydney's ABC local radio station for example.

Most of what I've seen and heard in the international media seems to be just reporting the TRA's threatened action without comment. But the stories are attracting plenty of reaction and the internet's full of comment.

Two aspects of the comments are amusing me.

First is the shock that a government might want to eavesdrop on people's communications. Typical of a non-democratic dictatorship is the theme of many comments.

'Naive' doesn't begin to cover it.

I'm amazed at how many people are unaware that our communications are routinely monitored by governments, including the world's leading democracies. Never heard of Echelon?

The other amusing aspect to me is the claim that companies won't be able to operate if they can't use Blackberry - businesses are totally reliant on their BB, people are saying, and without it they can't carry on their business.

In reality only a small percentage of companies use the device; I wonder how they managed before it was introduced.

Of course, the same could apply to any new device - I wonder how companies were able to operate before e-mail, before fax, before telephones, before telegraph, before...

It reminds me of a situation back in Sydney when I worked for a hotel group.It was the bicentennial year, hotels were running full. Some regular card-carrying business guests were having trouble getting a room with us, so we suggested that the hotels ran a wait-list for regular guests who could then be allocated a room if a cancellation came in.

At a marketing meeting the reaction from a hotel was presented, that they couldn't create a wait-list because the (computer) system didn't have that function.

A colleague shook his head while he held up a pencil and writing pad.


Luke said...

I had a similar experience in a restaurant in Bavaria 2 days ago. We wanted to order a local dish without the cheese. The waitress spent 5 minutes trying to put it into her handheld computer then gave up and told us she couldn't order it. I wrote the order on a piece of paper and told her to give it to the chef. She wasn't too happy but we got what we wanted.

Keefieboy said...

I know Itisalot is a fundamentally stupid company, with very weird ideas about what they will supply to their customers and how much they will charge.

But I think they launched BlackBerry services before we made our (well-timed, as it turned out) escape from the UAE. So that would be a little over three years ago. And they've only just discovered that this is how the BlackBerry works. Okay, that's not quite true - there was the disastrous attempt to remotely install spyware on their customers' phones about a year ago.

Anyhoo, in a gesture of solidarity against the perfidious whoevers that are using these devices to plot outrageous acts of terror, the Saudis and the Kuwaitis are also making banning-type noises. What annoys me about this is the disingenuous tosh about 'data being exported overseas'. Just for once, why don't they say what they mean, instead of lying to their customers.

They could say 'a group of terrorists could use these devices to communicate with each other, and we are unable to intercept their calls or messages.' And that's a problem for these insecure MidEast governments. I don't know what the solution is - it's like the ban on taking liquids and gels on board an aircraft, which has inconvenienced gazillions of airline passengers over the last few years because of one occasion when some deranged morons tried to blow up a plane using only toothpaste and a small aubergine.

Rant over. I suppose. But the world's press have picked up this story, and it's gonna be more nails in the coffin for the UAE.

Anonymous said...

FYI, I work for a multi-national company operating blackberries for all its managers all over the world... only in Dubai we have about 60 BB users... do you have any idea how much money being put in the infrastructure to operate the BB??

Blackberry does not operate like any other phone.. it has enterprise servers and its own infrastructure and security standards.

an end user like you and all of the kids,, will simply sell it and move on to a new device like iPhone...

but companies who invested on BB infrastructure can't simply change the phone?!?! its way complicated

and I hope you get and understand why Blackberry services is the only secure network in the world. and why it is trusted by major enterprises.

the world will not end if they stop the service... but will certainty will affect the businesses and DUBAI IMAGE for future businesses.

FYI, I am 100% sure, UAE will not ban the blackberry.. its just a threat and some media PR :)

my two fils ;)

Anonymous said...

Seabee, your amusement about the threatened Blackberry ban in the UAE is revealing.

The fact remians that the UAE is a non-democratic dictatorship and it is publicly threatening to ban certain telecommunications services because the relevant service provider won't allow it to spy on such provider's customers.

Surely this should alarm or disturb you rather than amuse you? Publicly threatening to ban a telecommunication service because the service provider won't let you you spy on its customers is not the same as the alleged eavesdropping by western powers directly or indirectly on their own citizens. If such activities are undertaken by western powers (and no doubt they are to an extent), those who conduct them do so on the basis of national security concerns or are breaking the law. In any event, they are ultimately accountable and are held in check by independent judiciary, free media and legislative oversight. Such accountability is not perfect and there are abuses and failings. But few western politicians today (or anyone else for that matter in the west) could ever dare to utilise the intelligence services to enhance their political fortunes, enrich themselves or discredit their opponents. Western politicians who tried this have failed spectacularly. Watergate anyone.....

No such checks and balances exist in the UAE. There is no accountability. Your amusement is misplaced. It indicates to me that either you have no appreciation of the difference between, on the one hand, a pluralistic, democratic society, with free media and the rule of law and moreover how such a society can hold in check any domestic espionage on its own citizens, legal or otherwise and, on the other hand, a society which entirely lacks these liberties and protections. Or maybe you are all too aware of the differences but cynically wish to obfuscate them in your apparent ongoing apologia of the Dubai/UAE government with your repeated inferences on this blog that what happens here in Dubai is no different than what happens elsewhere, particularly in western countries. It is different and it is no laughing matter.

Anonymous said...

As for your comment about businesses not being able to operate if they can't use the Blackberry, again your amusement is revealing. A business that uses Blackberrys or similar technology to communicate more efficient is likely to be more productive as a result (why have many businesses all over the world adopted such technology if not?). Depriving that business of that technology will not only cause disruption to that business's operations (as its employees and customers/suppliers etc. adjust to new, or should I say old, arrangements and practices) but will also allow its competitors who continue to use the technology in question an advantage over it allowing such competitors to increase market share and ultimately, if the state of affairs continues, drive your Blackberry deprived business out of business. Businesses may not be completely reliant on Blackberrys, but they are certainly more efficient because of them. Take them away and don't replace them with something as efficient, then they may very well not "be able to operate" as their businesses fail when their services/products are priced out of the market.

I wonder in your pencil and paper example of how well your pencil wielding colleagues kept up with another hotel with an automated system in keeping up with card-carrying business guests? And even if they did, what other more valuing adding tasks they were unable to perform because they were spending their time maintaining the handwritten lists? The people at the marketing meeting who suggested an innovative and no doubt more efficient approach should have been praised for doing so rather than being scorned by your head shaking colleague. No doubt specific circumstances applied, but the fact that you use this example to illuminate your view of usefulness or otherwise of Blackberrys is instructive as to your attitude on this point.

Ian said...

I think there's more to this story than meets the eye.

The TRA stated that this effects only Blackberry and specifically not iPhone or Nokia. However, on my iPhone, for example, I have an encrypted connection direct to my work email server located in Norway, which is precisely what they say was not allowed, i.e. encrypting the traffic and sending it straight off-shore.

What I think the real story is is the way that Blackberry handles internet traffic in general and not specifically email, which most people seem to be focussing on. The Blackberry device itself has no support on the handset for the web protocols like HTTP or email protocols such as POP or IMAP. Instead, it uses a proprietary protocol which directly communicates with a central, off-shore, encrypted, proxy server, and it is this approach which means that the government cannot identify which sites are being accessed since the server is located outside of their jurisdiction. This means that the government cannot censor any web content or track which sites are being viewed. It has nothing to do with the security on the Blackberry being superior to that of its competitors, as they all use SSL encryption which is the same encryption deemed sufficient for internet banking transactions.

Another key, and little discussed, aspect to this is that Blackberry also has an Instant Messaging application which works over the same encrypted channels, and this instant, encrypted, direct communication channel is incredibly powerful and is seen as a big threat.

So, it's less to do with what the communication contains, and more to do with the local government not being able to see who the communication is with. I would expect that communication with somebody on a "black-list" would raise an alert that would be investigated in other ways but, with the Blackberry, they cannot get this initial connection.

Seabee said...

Anon@3.13: "alleged eavesdropping by western powers directly or indirectly on their own citizens"

'Alleged'? They openly acknowledge it and in various court cases have used the evidence they collect from monitoring communications. Add the millions of CCTV cameras used by all types of governments and we're being constantly watched, listened to and recorded whether we live in open or closed societies.

Ian: "I think there's more to this story than meets the eye". There almost always is.

Anon@3.13 said...

'Alleged'? They openly acknowledge it and in various court cases have used the evidence they collect from monitoring communications.

You make my point for me: "in various court cases". There is accountability! If information is obtained illegally, then it won't be admissible in court and the gatherers of such information will be liable to face legal action themselves.

Add the millions of CCTV cameras used by all types of governments and we're being constantly watched, listened to and recorded whether we live in open or closed societies.

The majority of voters seem to tolerate CCTV surveillance or at least accept it as a necessary protection. If not, then a politician who advocated removing the cameras would win an election.

Again, we have certain protections in open societies which are completing lacking in closed societies. Why do you so readily gloss over this point?

Seabee said...

Anon@3.13, I made no suggestion that collecting the data is illegal. It isn't.

"Again, we have certain protections in open societies which are completing lacking in closed societies. Why do you so readily gloss over this point?"

I don't.

Anon@3.13 said...

Anon@3.13, I made no suggestion that collecting the data is illegal. It isn't.

It could be. But at least in open societies we have the courts (and media to a lesser extent) to provide us with protection if information is gathered illegally or if it is used illegally. Such protections do not exist in the UAE. This is a critical distinction and one that you appear not to understand or otherwise ignore.

"Again, we have certain protections in open societies which are completing lacking in closed societies. Why do you so readily gloss over this point?"

I don't.

In my view, you do, by continually claiming that what happens in the UAE is the same as elsewhere, particularly in western countries. This is just my opinion of course.....

Anonymous said...

The reality is that Blackberry will not change it's position on the security issue and rightfully so. The UAE's pitiful excuse regarding national security is a load of cobblers. However, to be fair what did we expect from a dictatorship?

Anyway getting back to point, when Mike Lazaridis CEO Research in Motion was asked about the UAE issue, he clearly stated that when they were setting up shop and approached the Institutions and Governments during the initial set up stage, they were told that unless it is secure, they are not interested. This is why Blackberry went the route it did. Secure.

In a nutshell, he is telling the UAE to kiss his a@@.

Fortunately for some of us, we do not have this problem because we have left the quicksand and saved ourselves from drowning. Dubai is so far in the trenches that it has started to eat it's own limbs.

The only thing left for Dubai to control is peoples minds. After this they will have the totalitarian rule that they actually stand for.

Seabee said...

Anon@3.13: "by continually claiming that what happens in the UAE is the same as elsewhere, particularly in western countries"

To be accurate, I sometimes point out that some of the things that happen here also happen elsewhere. A number of people don't want to acknowledge that.

There's a mistaken belief expounded by that group that people in the west are free of all restrictions, have perfect democratic governments, have governments which don't monitor their citizens and that the 'bad' things only happen in non-democracies like the UAE. Once in a while I say that something that happens here also happens in the west.

"continually claiming" is stretching a point beyond belief. This is my 1,144th post - in how many have I claimed that "what happens in the UAE is the same as elsewhere"?

'Continually' is about as far from the truth as you can get.

Anonymous said...

Anon@3.13, well said. everything you said is exactly what seabee does on a regular basis. and everyone except himself sees it. not to worry, don't waste your time, you are more than what this lame apologetic blog about dubai can handle.

oh...and incidentally, not a whiff from the well informed analysts here about how the Blackberry and messenger was used to organise the protest against petrol price rise in dubai? and how those people are cooling their heels inside as we speak. laughing matter indeed for many! how about a guess that this was the last straw on the camel's back?

Keefieboy said...

Weeeeeeeell, in Western countries, eavesdropping on telecommunications usually requires a warrant issued by a magistrate... however, the EU itslef are whinging about BlackBerries: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100804/tc_nm/us_blackberry_eu_1

samuraisam said...

Seabee: Lots of businesses do use blackberries. There are 500,000 in the UAE.

There are lots of travelling businessmen/women from the US etc with blackberries that they expect to be able to use here.

There are thousands of people who've just been screwed out of a functional phone that they paid for for.

And Etisalat gets to take this opportunity to push people into year long contracts.

I'm not that bothered about the whole gov't monitoring thing, as you said its expected.

What gets me is that the TRA wakes up one day and gets to decide that our phones are paperweights and that we should enter into a 12-month contract with Etisalat if we want to fix that. Etisalat gets to claim the phones are 'free' when it's fairly obvious they're going to be making MORE money than last month because they no longer have to pay RIM and have no reason to pay any 3rd party entity because they're a monopoly.

And if we choose not to take a phone from Etisalat they've put together some crappy deals that they hope people will snap up.

The unlimited ones are false advertising because they're not unlimited.

and the limited ones charge 15 AED per MB of local data.

No joke. To load less than a floppy disk worth of data in the year 2010 costs 4 US dollars.

This is why this is a great business opportunity for Etisalat, they don't have to pay RIM any more and they get to charge us whatever they want for trivial services.

Anonymous said...

I have a different take to this whole ordeal. Both Etisalat and du conveniently came up with "solutions" to this whole mess almost instantly, Etisalat within 2 days of TRA's announcement and du within 3 days. These are the same companies that took almost the full 4 years to figure out the World Cup coverage! In a tax free environment, how else would the government (or government linked companies) increase revenues?? Just create disruptions and so-called solutions.

The Man said...

O/T but somehow I feel Anon@4:36 is Anon@3.13 !

Anonymous said...

Seabee used to be accused of being "anti-Dubai" some months back. All he was guilty of was criticizing bad practices here, like poor customer service, bad driving etc.

Since then, he has started being much more positive about Dubai by either pointing out bad things elsewhere, or by saying things to the tune of "bad things happen everywhere, Dubai is no different".
Whether this change in tone is due to the earlier critics is something we cant be sure of, but it wont be surprising !

Seabee said...

Sam, I agree on the getting screwed fact. I hate retrospective legislation of any sort anywhere, and this is retrospective. If there was a problem, as the TRA said, with the device not meeting the country's legislation then they knew that from the very beginning. The elements of it that concern them should have been banned from the outset so that consumers weren't mislead.

BTW, I stick with "a small percentage of companies use BBs". What percentage of RIN's clients are corporate? How many companies in the world? How many use BB?

Seabee said...

Anon @8.23, you do me a disservice. If you look back through the archives you'll see that I highlight much more than the service and driving here. In particular the various laws and the way the law is administered, plus the sentencing, the lack of law enforcement, the hypocrisy, the labourer situation and all the rest of it. Click on my ' laws' tab, for example.

I'm not aware of changing to be less critical, if I have been it's certainly not deliberate. I simply post about things I read or hear or come across as they happen and I may include my take on them.

Naseem said...

BTW, I stick with "a small percentage of companies use BBs". What percentage of RIN's clients are corporate? How many companies in the world? How many use BB?

SeaBee... you really have no idea how popular blackberry is in the corporate market;

The magjority of 500 fortune companies use blackberry.

Worked in Dubai for one of the fortune 100 and I am an Infrastructure IT manager currently working in KSA for another major company and trust me... stopping blackberry will make it so difficult as Blackberry makes communication and business very efficient...

I do lots of travelling and the beauty of my blackberry is that it works everywhere with full email and internet and I dont have to worry about roaming charges ever.

Seabee said...

Naseem, yes I know companies in the Fortune 500 use it - but the world's business community is millions of companies.

That's the end of my attention span on this one, I've moved on to other posts...