Don’t get the hearse because RIM is not dead yet.
Last month, Research in Motion, BlackBerry’s mother company, unveiled BB10, the new mobile operating system. Besides the new OS, it appears the company isn’t in as grim financial shape as was once foretold. This is good news for enterprises and lawyers because Blackberry has traditionally had the best security and has been the mobile of choice for business.
Apple’s iPhone and the Android have taken over the consumer market. The ubiquity of ‘bring your own device,’ or BYOD saw a big drop in BlackBerry adoptions and uptick in use of Apple and Android in recent years. However, BYOD has caused all sorts of issues — from the human resources level to e-discovery practicalities. Some companies just say “no” entirely to use of personal mobile devices, while others have adopted the BYOD model with some rules that they try to enforce — usually without much success.
The new RIM OS, which should be available to consumers in early 2013, offers BlackBerry Balance technology, the company’s tendered solution to BYOD issues. Balance is reported to allow users to go back and forth easily between personal and business use. It also offers faster Web browsing, and greater ease of use. It has had serious limitations as well, and its sales have suffered because of it.
If asked about RIM even three months ago, I would have wagered that they would be out of business before the end of 2013. The devices have remained essentially unchanged for years — the Volvo of the mobile world. Their functionality has remained virtually the same, as have menus and screen size. However, therein lies their beauty in many ways.
My contract was up a couple of months ago and I leapt at the chance to grab the new Galaxy III — the latest and greatest Android. After years of using the BlackBerry, which I thought at the time to be impossibly slow for browsing and anemic on apps, I was desperate for the best the mobile world had to offer. I found that I didn’t use the big screen, nor did I really care so much about browsing as I did about being able to locate and respond quickly to my e-mails, texts and see who called. I found the Galaxy III menus laborious and unnecessary, because really, all I use my phone for is email, text and phone.
I’ve typed over 80 words a minute since eighth grade. My old BlackBerry was easy for me to use. It had a keyboard that I could feel. Using two thumbs, I could type without looking at the device. That was important, since a lot of the time I was texting from under the table at a restaurant, during a meeting, in the dark or while on another phone.
The on-screen Android keyboard required actually looking at the keyboard and poking each key with a deliberation not required on the BlackBerry. There are apps to change the Android keyboard that supposedly make it more user-friendly. I tried, but they just didn’t provide the tactile solution of a real, physical key to press. A glass screen is not a keyboard.
So, when I awoke the other morning to find that my fancy phone no longer functioned and, after bringing it to the shop to have it fixed it still didn’t work, I went back to my BlackBerry.
In another matter, the Federal Trade Commision has settled its claim against seven computer rental companies and a software designer for “spying” on customers who rented PCs. The rented computers contained software that managers of rent-to-own stores could use to disable the system due to non-payment. The software also had the ability to track geo-location of the property.
“Detective Mode” was a potentially nefarious feature that was allegedly used in some instances. The software was able to record keystrokes, turn on the webcam to take pictures of the computer operator (sometimes in various states of undress), and capture data saved to the system hard drive. The software also presented the system user with a software registration form that was designed to capture data from consumers on behalf of the rental companies for purposes of collecting debts. All of this information could be sent to the rental center. The FTC alleged that all this was done without notice to the customers and without their consent. According to the FTC complaint, as of last year, about 1,620 rent-to-own stores in the United States, Canada, and Australia had licensed PC Rental Agent software. The software had been installed on some 420,000 computers worldwide.
The FTC charged DesignWare LLC — which licensed the software to rent-to-own stores — and the rental companies with unfair trade practices. But there is so much more to the legal story than that. If such spying was conducted by rental companies of Connecticut residents, there are a number of laws that may have been broken — from criminal acts to civil wrongs and breach of other laws, such as the duty to provide notice to employees that they are being electronically monitored. What a headache.
What I wonder is how the decisions were made to install the software and why there wasn’t some rudimentary review of the federal and state laws protecting people’s privacy against electronic surveillance. There’s plenty of monitoring software out there, and it’s abused all the time for unlawful purposes. When used properly, monitoring software can be helpful in securing a business. However, one would think that when a company chooses to include it as part of a product and leverage its features to perform a legally regulated task-like collecting debts — that the legal department would be involved in that decision.
This is one example in a daily cavalcade of examples that highlight the importance of educating ourselves about how the law might regulate what our clients want to do, or what they are already doing when it comes to information technology. •