As the sun goes down on London, the riots that started in the north of the city a few days ago in response to a shooting have spread to a number of other locations — including two very close to where I live — resulting in a number of fires and skirmishes, as well as more looting, in a situation that still seems to be developing as the night closes in. Earlier today, a number of commentators drew the connection between the riots and BlackBerry’s free BBM messaging service, which people have been using to spread the word and organize involvement — presumably a fair bit of it on a violent level. Today, BlackBerry finally spoke up in response.
On the back of the riot reports and the use of BBM, there have been some reports that RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) would be shutting down the BBM service this evening in London, although a spokesperson for RIM told paidContent that this was just a rumor, and nothing else.
Meanwhile, while a lot of attention has been focused on the use of BBM it appears, too, that there could be other “free” messaging networks playing a role, such as the Sony (NYSE: SNE) PS3, which has a messaging network designed to be used used by connected game players.
While RIM may not be shutting down BBM, it has said that it will cooperate with authorities in other ways. This was first revealed earlier in the day, by the official UK BlackBerry Twitter account:
Later in the day, RIM issued an official response from Patrick Spence, managing director, global sales and regional marketing that elaborated on that, although again not drawing a direct link between the use of BBM and the riots.
We feel for those impacted by this weekend’s riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.
As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials. Similar to other technology providers in the UK we comply with The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces.
The company still has not provided details on what information it plans to pass on to authorities, although it could include details of users as well as messages themselves.
RIM has come under some scrutiny in other markets, such as India, for not providing certain data to authorities — although this appears to be an issue connected specifically to the enterprise-class level of services rather than those used by consumers, like BBM.
The enterprise services, claims RIM, get encrypted at the point that they are sent via the enterprise server, and this is why the data cannot be collected and passed along. As of June, RIM’s India MD noted that it is still working with authorities in India to reach a compromise on this point.