Mobile

BlackBerry Messenger blamed for fueling London riots, RIM cooperating

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BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion said Monday evening that it will cooperate after police said BlackBerry Messenger played an instrumental part in coordinating the violent rioting and looting in London during the past few days.

In a statement to VentureBeat, RIM said:

“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 declined to elaborate further, but the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act does allow police to make companies hand over information, so RIM could have to give up information it has on specific users.

BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, is a free, private messaging service that only works on BlackBerry devices. What makes the network special—and easy to abuse—is that BBM messages are encrypted and untraceable to authorities. RIM has said in the past that it can’t unscramble messages sent via BBM, but the scope of the company’s capabilities in this area remain unclear.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have also been blamed for amplifying users’ messages. Steve Kavanagh, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said that “inflammatory” and “inaccurate” messages on Twitter were also to blame for the riots, according to the Guardian. “Social media and other methods have been used to organize these levels of greed and criminality,” Kavanagh said, according to the paper.

The riots in London have been raging since Saturday, and it was reported today that a 26-year-old man who was shot during the riots has died, becoming the first death attributed to the mass disorder. Police are expecting more disturbances this evening.

The negative press toward BBM certainly doesn’t help RIM, which has struggled lately to keep consumers interested in its devices. The company just launched five new models of BlackBerry 7 devices, but many smartphone buyers in the U.S. and around the world have shown a preference for Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android devices.

I’d like to point out that although smartphone technology and social networks helped in coordinating the riots in London, these tools shouldn’t be blamed for actually causing the disorder. In the absence of BBM or Twitter, users could have used text messages or phone calls to coordinate.