BlackBerry, once a security pioneer, falls behind on privacy, transparency

blackberry-classic-9500.jpg (Image: CNET/CBS Interactive, file photo)

BlackBerry has “no plans” to address encryption and transparency concerns that rival firms Apple and Google have attempted to quell in recent years.

It comes at a tumultuous time for tech companies, which countered the accusations of complicity with government intelligence gathering by cracking down on security and privacy features to its devices and services.

But BlackBerry, though an outlier in the current mobile marketplace, refuses to modernize its corporate mantra, despite once revered as an encrypted email service provider.

The company’s chief operating officer Marty Beard said at a talk earlier this week the company believes in a “balanced” approach to encryption, as opposed to companies that are “all about encryption all the way,” thought to be Apple and Google.

Beard’s comments fall shy of saying the company offers a backdoor for law enforcement purposes.

In a statement, a BlackBerry spokesperson denied that it has a “backdoor.”

The spokesperson said: “Encryption is very important to protect governments, business and individuals from hacking. That’s why so many world leaders and CEOS rely on BlackBerry to protect their data.”

“At the same time, no one wants to see terrorists and criminals taking advantage of encryption to evade detection. That’s why we have always strongly supported law enforcement around the world when they need our help. While we do not support so-called ‘backdoors,’ we and every other tech company bears a responsibility to do all we can to help governments protect their citizens,” the spokesperson added.

Privacy advocates and technologists have argued that whether it’s a “backdoor” or a “front door,” any hole in encryption for law enforcement can put privacy — and security — at risk by hackers.

Indeed, the company has long co-operated with law enforcement agencies around the world, but says it does not have “special deals for individual countries.”

BlackBerry currently has about 1.2 percent of the US mobile market share, according to comScore, down from 13.4 percent three years ago prior.

In mid-2013, BlackBerry was reportedly “ready to provide” the Indian government with a way to access to its customers’ messages, reports the BBC.

BlackBerry isn’t alone in having to provide governments with access to user data if served a valid legal order. But that’s why some companies have designed their systems in such a way that prevents them from handing over personal data without the user’s consent.

That trend of increasing security and privacy has encouraged every Fortune 500 tech company and every US cell carrier to issue a transparency report into how many government demands for user data it receives.

A BlackBerry spokesperson confirmed that it does not plan to issue a transparency report in the near future.

BlackBerry’s chief executive John Chen said last year that security had become more important to businesses and government since the Snowden disclosures.

But in the past two years since the Snowden documents were first published by journalists, the company has barely nudged the needle for the privacy counteroffensive. Exactly how reassuring that is to the fraction of consumer customers it once had remains to be seen.