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Wed 22 Jul 2009 01:48 PM

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Who cares if Big Brother is watching?

The Etisalat spy scandal won’t make you give up your BlackBerrys, says Andrew White.

Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not after you. That well-worn phrase is the mantra of conspiracy theorists the world over, and it was given more credence this week as it emerged that UAE incumbent telco Etisalat may have knowingly pushed a surveillance patch that enables the operator to see emails sent from customers’ BlackBerrys.

As iconic as the iPod, the BlackBerry is the Filofax of the Noughties, brandished with pride by 30 million 21st century yuppies that can’t bear the thought of being off the information superhighway for even a minute. Lunch is for wimps, unless you can push emails, send a few faxes and check the cricket scores while you eat.

And like their 80s counterparts, today’s yuppies are lost if they’re without their little black buddies. There’s a good reason the devices are nicknamed ‘crackberries’: you can tell when someone’s going cold turkey by their agitated, twitchy demeanor, and the way they’ve no idea what to do with hands too used to teasing a trackball.

A BlackBerry addict can be skiing in the French Alps or on a beach in Barbados, but bet your bottom dollar that little handset’s turned on. Even if you confiscate the battery, they’ll find someone else to borrow one from, if only for a quick glance at the inbox. The only chance you’ve got of weaning a loved one off the dreadful thing is to dump them somewhere in Africa that has yet to pick up a signal. Zanzibar works a treat, I’m told.

I know that plenty of people swear by the devices, and that anyone reading this on their handset will probably have logged off in disgust many paragraphs ago. After all, what a bonus it is to be accountable to the office 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Who doesn’t want to read press releases over drinks, fire off a memo at dinner, and play with the multi-touch interface later in the evening?

But the simple fact is that you don’t own your BlackBerrys; they own you. A host of software and telecom security experts have testified that Etisalat may be scrutinising what you write, what you read and where you browse. Big Brother is watching. And yet how many of you are binning your BlackBerrys?

Even though you know you’re being spied on, you still can’t turn the damn things off.

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Denny 11 years ago

I've read it twice, and I still can't figure out what point you're trying to make. People are addicted to Blackberry...insightful! Brilliant!

Kaizen Trader 11 years ago

What?!! WTF was that? I’m not a fan of linear explanations regarding non-linear events (ie. LIFE) but you have outdone yourself Andrew! What a load of cock-eye concluding that with the conscious knowledge of privacy infringement (in addition to corporate information), people “will” and “should” (since you say WHO CARES..) go on business as usual. I mean, the UAE is no democracy and this has been going on for years – any long time resident will attest to this. Have you even read the comments section of said article (Etisalat accused in surveillance…)? Not that I reside in libertarian utopia - been living in California circa 2002 - where people would rather talk about how great it is to have freedom of speech to complain about their (self-imposed) problems, while the powers that be chuckle amongst themselves saying “That’s right, keep ‘talking’; lord knows civilization progressed on the back of words & inaction” Ahh, to live in the land of the educated, where people get robbed & they celebrate it. Till next time…readers ought to understand & internalize that an open mind requires eternal vigilance Kaizen Trader.

Karim Fastak 11 years ago

So what's the point of this article? If there is a monopoly you can do whatever you want? So your point is that we are the stupid addicted ones for keeping to use our phones? Shouldn't you actually discuss how Etisalat is abusing its position, and although there is no direct effect on existing people living in the UAE as we don't really have a choice, there is a negative indirect effect on how the UAE is viewed by businesses and the outside world? We don't need more negative news and behavior in this country... on the contrary decisions should be carefully taken and thought of to bring back the positive sentiment and re-start the expats wanting to come to Dubai as we all want it to emerge stronger than ever!

hisham 11 years ago

and this is helpful - how?

Youssef Halazon 11 years ago

This article has really no point! It seems Andrew was short on time and had to write an article about Etisalat and came up with this in two minutes! The article goes no where, unless he wants to argue that we should just shut up and not complain when our privacy is invaded! Great point to make from a responsible journalist!

Charles 11 years ago

I'm not sure and crackberry addicts will be reading this article on their blackberry, as one can't access this website or the articles via one of their devices......perhaps if we are deemed so loyal to our devices, arabian business may want to evolve this next step?

Wiley Dozis 11 years ago

The issue here is not the technology, but the abuse. Given that emails and phone calls have been monitored extra-judicially around the world (and quite legitimately in the Gulf!) for years, the only people screaming about their Bilgeberrys are people that never had a have a clue that this is the way of the world. Etisalat still deserve a slap for making such a mess of the implementation though, and they should refund people who may have gone and bought new batteries.

dinu philip 11 years ago

A.W., did you run out of topics to write about that you put out a pointless nonsensical gibberish of nothing that made sense to no-one ?? As much as you write well, i think the summer heat got to you, dont waste our time here with such idiotic reports coz we are not, lemme repeat, NOT fools !!! Want some topics - write about retail outlets cashing in on farce sales, middle income employees and their non stop woes (schools, rents, loans), diplomatic missions with no missions, unfinished roads in Sharjah thats still causing havoc etc..

SCC 11 years ago

Actually Andrew you may be surprised. I have just turned in 16 company Blackberries never to return again. Cell phones and abundant wifi spots cover the necessities of 99% of life-both business & personal. Pretending otherwise is arrogance in the extreme

P.M. 11 years ago

i dont know this article belongs to which kind of press but definitly not a respectable one like arabian business, this is nonsense, this journalist knows nothing about press or may be he thinks he is writing to a bunch of idiots...