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Thu 23 Jul 2009 12:06 PM

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EXCLUSIVE: BlackBerry patch was not for spying, claims Etisalat

VP tells Arabian Business patch was to improve performance.

EXCLUSIVE: BlackBerry patch was not for spying, claims Etisalat

Etisalat has denied controversial software it sent to its BlackBerry subscribers was designed to spy on customers.

Abdulla Hashim, vice president of enterprise solutions for Etisalat, said the patch was intended to improve the performance of services for BlackBerry subscribers, but that the firm regretted the problems caused to users who downloaded the software.

Etisalat had since sent BlackBerry subscribers “correction software” allowing users to deactivate the patch, he said.

The telecom operator faced accusations of spying on its customers from software and telecom security experts, who said the software was a surveillance patch enabling Etisalat to see emails sent from BlackBerry devices, a theory that was endorsed by BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) on its website.

Etisalat stopped issuing the patch after it was found to greatly reduce the battery life of the smartphone.

“This patch is not for spying,” Hashim told Arabian Business in an exclusive interview.

“The patch was needed to improve performance on the BlackBerry coverage.”

The Java-based software was designed to improve coverage for users moving from 3G to 2G network areas within the UAE, he said.

“Etisalat has 3G and 2G networks and this (the patch) was to enhance the handover from 3G to 2G when people are moving around the UAE as 3G is not 100 percent. 3G is 97 percent coverage.”

Hashim’s comments contradict RIM’s assertion that it was “not aware of any technical network concerns with the performance of BlackBerry smartphones on Etisalat’s network in the UAE.”

Asked if Etisalat regretted issuing the patch, Hashim said: “We don’t feel happy as we were hoping it (the patch) would improve things but it caused problems, despite testing.

“But we don’t regret the intention of what we tried to achieve. Whenever we find software to enhance the performance of a mobile device and improve customer experience we will issue it. It is our duty to improve network performance.”

A technical fault with the patch was behind the problems experienced by “several hundred” customers who downloaded the software, he said.

He said the company had sent the patch to its 150,000 BlackBerry subscribers earlier this month but only a small number had downloaded it.

“The patch has been stopped being issued. It caused problems and we sent correction software to customers to remove it,” he added.

Meanwhile, an online poll by Arabian Business found that more than half of Etisalat’s BlackBerry customers are planning to ditch the telecoms provider.

Experts said the problems were caused by too many devices trying to register the software at once.

RIM on Tuesday released a strongly-worded statement claiming it was “not involved in any way in the testing, promotion or distribution of this software application.”

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Harry 11 years ago

How is this exclusive? This is the same false claim Etisalat made last week, that has been refuted by security experts ever since. http://www.itp.net/news/562237-etisalats-patch-explanation-described-as-rubbish

Matt 11 years ago

Well, I am certain that they wouldnt say otherwise. How could they? The problem with monopolies is that they have the "only game in town" mentality. Monopolies are not allowed in most countries and the reason is for the allowance of competition to give consumers an advantage. When we hear of Etisalat's soaring revenue "even during recession"....is that an accomplishment when you have only a small competitor that has limited service quality because it is riding on the competitor's connection. It's a shame that we are given "what we get" when they decide to give it....service, connection and pricing.

DXB BB User 11 years ago

Dear Etisalat, For the love of GOD, STOP LYING!!!!! If this happened elsewhere in the world, a formal investigation would have taken place and the CEO would be forced to resign. But hey, we don't need that, all we want is for you to admit what you have done and issue an apology. Stop insulting your users' intelligence. We are furious with you and have completely lost all our trust in your brand and the values it represents, if any!

Mikey B 11 years ago

not sure what this adds, as Etisalat already stated that software was for network problems. and those claims have already been shot down by experts in all corners of the worlkd, now. Etisalat know the questions they need to answer. too little too late from them, damage already done

observer 11 years ago

Deafening silence from the 'Independent impartial' regulatory authority!!

Fahad 11 years ago

With all due respect to Mr. Hashim, the java patch was repeatedly confirmed by at least a dozen software specialists on forums across the world to be; a) incapable of affecting the way a handset handled wireless transmissions b) authored by SS8, which is a security solutions provider c) capable of transmitting data to a predetermined address I think there is a bigger issue than just Etisalat trying to pull the wool over our collective eyes. The question we must ask ourselves is why. Why does the largest telecom provider in the country want to read our emails? Why aren't they able to own up to this act? Why is the UAE adopting the nanny state approach in dealing with its population. Transparency. Buzz word.

Cackleberry 11 years ago

Whoever is handling Etisalat's PR should be made to walk the plank, because the hopeless mis-messaging, delayed responses, hollow promises and general failed spin belong to the the 80s, not the noughties in the UAE, supposedly the tech capital of the region. They got caught lying, fair and square, and now the consumers can vote, not that one can trust du any more.

Michael 11 years ago

I was one of I guess the few suckers who downloaded the patch. I get maybe 5 text messages per week from Etisalat and their advertising partners. Yet, I never received a text to apologize or tell me what was happening. I also never received their patch removal software. Had they sent it I wouldn't have downloaded it though because I don't trust them anymore. Just go to blackberry's support site and download the patch removal.

Harold 11 years ago

Surely Etisalat is not only talking to AB on something as major as this. If they are then there is yet another inside deal going on with the PR hucksters for Etisalat, who have so far failed completely in their quest of be relevant.

Sheryar 11 years ago

Not surprising at all but very dissapointing....a stereotypical answer of Etisalat. How can a company which prides itself at being one of the largest in the region give such lame and irresposible statement. I really think they need to get their facts right and check with RIM who have already issued a statement acknowledging the fact that it was a spyware and never authorized by them. Well it doest really matter RIM you are calling it to deaf ears, Etisalat would'nt give it even a second thought. After all they are the GREAT ETISALAT who prides itself on being the best in UAE and are scared with competition