Blackberry turns from sour to sweet in India's 2G scam season

Be it corporates, politicians or journalists – none of these power constituents in India have been spared in the 2G scam but it seems Research In Motion (RIM), the Blackberry maker, has indirectly benefited.

No one knows the reason why suddenly the Blackberry security issue has died down. Until a month back, security concerns over Blackberry were making news but the media seems to have diverted its focus solely on the 2G scam.

Changing Stance of Indian Government
It looks like the Indian government’s deadline for Blackberry maker RIM to resolve the data encryption deadlock got respite from the media as none of the large publishing houses are following up the story.

The Canadian phone maker claimed a couple of months back that the industry forum would work closely with the Indian government and focus on developing recommendations for policies and processes aimed at preventing the misuse of strong encryption technologies, while preserving its many societal benefits in India.

Terrorists can easily use the loopholes in technologies like Blackberry’s, so they say.

Now, the issue is not with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) as it is still continuing to chase RIM, but with a soft corner for the company. In a recent interview, Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai also dismissed reports that the smartphone maker’s services will be blocked if the government’s surveillance demands aren’t met by the end of January.

“We’re trying to find solutions where everybody’s interests are in one sense protected,” Pillai said during an interview. “It’s going to take a little time, because it’s a new technology.”

The first deadline set for RIM to meet the requirements was 31 August.

RIM now reportedly says that it doesn’t have the technology for enterprise-encryption keys. It even issued a statement last week saying, “RIM has no ability to provide the customers’ encryption keys for Blackberry enterprise email.”

The company also cried it shouldn’t be “singled out” from others on the data security front as most corporate networks suffer similar problems.

It was rumored silently that GOI has reset the deadline of 31 January, 2011 for RIM to come to compliance with government demands. Failing that the phonemaker will have to face a ban. But Pillai refused to confirm and termed the deadline as more of a “target” and not a firm date. RIM refused to disclose the appropriate user-base figures in India. RIM talks global and it said it has more than 50 million subscribers worldwide.

Pillai subtly reasoned that subscribers and users shouldn’t be affected. Now, the question that has not been put across to Pillai is why GOI didn’t express the same concern regarding users when the DoT first issued a ban threat to RIM.

A recent statement from the Press Information Bureau (PIB), India, reads, “Government is engaged with Research in Motion (RIM), the provider of Blackberry services, to find out a solution for the interception and monitoring of messenger chat and enterprise email using Blackberry phone.”

It seems the “Power of Blackberry” has even started to work on the Indian Government. We now need to look at if anybody is lobbying for RIM as well.

How is Blackberry benefiting?
Despite the continuing drama, Blackberry is still growing in the Indian market. The Blackberry Bold 9780 (updated version of the Blackberry 9700) is the latest smartphone that has been launched in India last month. The phone has been priced at 26,900 INR ($600).

The most pressing fact is the mobile retail chains and dealers in India have seen a rise in Blackberry sales.

A mobile retail store manager in Delhi says, “The reports a few months back raised some concerns which led to a drop in sales of Blackberry phones. We don’t hear such reports any more and users also feel secure while buying it.”

Taking a user’s perspective, we spoke to some customers at the store.

Ranjan Shah (name changed on request) says, “I don’t think GOI will ever do anything harsh and RIM will definitely take care of users’ interest. There were reports earlier but now Blackberry is back on track.”

This is what managed public relations does. Has there been Radia lobbying for RIM as well? We would like to believe there hasn’t but Blackberry and RIM’s sway is really showing.