Blackphone, BlackBerry throw punches over smartphone security

This isn't the first time BlackBerry has taken a public potshot at a rival, but in the Blackphone case, the firm has met its mouthy match.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

A recent post on BlackBerry's official blog criticized the "surveillance-proof" Blackphone, but the makers of the device are not staying silent on the matter.

An article published 14 July on the Blackberry blog by enterprise content strategy marketing manager Joe McGarvey said the Blackphone was only "purportedly secure" and "inadequate for business." McGarvey writes:

BlackBerry welcomes the attention the Blackphone brings to secure communications and digital privacy. But when it comes to protecting corporate information and end-user privacy, meeting compliance requirements and expanding the productivity of your mobile workforce, the similarities we share with Blackphone end with the name.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 12.40.08

The $629 Blackphone, which began shipping in June, is billed as a consumer-grade smartphone created through a joint venture between Silent Circle and Geeksphone, SGP Technologies. The handset uses a tailored Android operating system, dubbed PrivOS, and features remote wiping tools and subscriptions to encrypted communication apps including Silent Phone and Silent Text.

However, BlackBerry says the Blackphone is consumer-driven, and "appears to be designed to operate outside the realm of IT oversight." In addition, the device "may fall short" of delivering the expectations of the enterprise, especially in comparison to BlackBerry's end-to-end enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution. McGarvey claims:

For enterprises, security that stops at the device isn't secure enough. When it comes to enterprise security — in a pre- or post-Snowden environment — the protection offered by BlackBerry's end-to-end EMM solution makes the most attractive features of the Blackphone superfluous.

It took no more than a day for the CEO of Blackphone maker SGP Technologies to strike back in reprisal. Chief executive Toby Weir-Jones posted a response criticizing his "friends" at BlackBerry in turn, stating that while the company is willing to extol its own virtues at Blackphone's expense by calling the handset "inadequate" for business users, BlackBerry had no problem "compromising its integrity" if sufficient government pressure was applied. The case in question was when Research in Motion made it "technically possible" for governments to view communications from Saudi, UAE, and India due to governmental whims, despite previous claims based on the security and privacy of its communications network.

"Nowadays, the only thing sustaining them is the inertia of their remaining enterprise and government customers, but that too will eventually come to rest while we and others continue to win over those accounts," Weir-Jones writes.

"That, along with the restrictive platform architecture, lack of widespread adoption by third parties, and shifting priorities among large enterprise customers, all closed the book on RIM, and the precipitous decline in its fortunes  — well-documented by the press  —  began."

The CEO then delivers a lengthy rebuttal of BlackBerry's criticism in order to "set the record straight," including the fact that Blackphone uses peer-to-peer systems, which stops the company itself from being able to hand over customer data, including encryption keys.

In addition, Weir-Jones says that Blackphone's subscription services and attitude to security is more flexible and transparent than BES, and is "how most enterprises are deploying mobility solutions today." The CEO says:

The whole point of Blackphone is privacy, choice, and control. This puts the ability to make those decisions back into the hands of the device owner. If it's a private individual, then they control the whole spectrum of decisions. If it's a company, then the company chooses what to permit its employees to do with company-owned equipment.

But we reject outright the argument that an end-to-end approach is the only viable choice, because it's that same approach which allowed Blackberry to betray its customers and jettison its credibility.

It's unsurprising that BlackBerry will go on the offensive against rivals as it struggles to retain and recruit customers within the enterprise market, but should the mud-slinging continue, such behavior could do more harm than good to its reputation. While Blackphone is marketed as a consumer gadget, this doesn't mean that the encryption used is not suitable for everyone — and criticizing a rival in public, while extolling its own virtues, may not endear BlackBerry to customers in the future.

Editorial standards