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The Death of the BlackBerry: A Great Loss for Cyberdiversity

There was a time--not even very long ago--when Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon didn't own everything. As recently as 2013, BlackBerry phones had 85 million users worldwide...but then Google's Android phones and Apples iPhones began to dominate the market. Nowadays, nearly every phone on the market uses software from one of these two companies. And BlackBerry, despite putting up a valiant effort, is officially dead.

Why does this matter? Because brands are more than just names. Brands represent different companies that have different technology, different ways of thinking, and consequently different security measures. Blackberry phones were among the most secure on the planet, with encryption that still puts Android and iOS to shame. The BlackBerry operating system was so robust that the US military and government leaders still used BlackBerry phones for as long as possible, trusting BlackBerry to keep user data safe. Now, with all of our data stored on Apple or Google devices, all of our personal information is less secure.

BlackBerry used to have its own operating system, separate from Google or Apple. Then, slowly, it caved and began releasing certain phones that used a modified version of the Android operating system. And now, as of January 4, 2022, BlackBerry has officially and completely decommissioned its operating system for all phones besides Androids. So even if the BlackBerry name lives on in some form, it won't have the same meaningfully different security measures that defined the brand.

Of course, this isn't just about better security technology. The truth is, if only two companies control the entire mobile phone market, then the market automatically becomes less secure purely from a lack of variety. Computer viruses--just like biological viruses--are bred to infect specific types of hosts. In a genetically diverse population, a virus won't spread as far or as fast because different people can resist the virus to varying degrees. But if all people are the same, then one virus can wipe out the entire population. Correspondingly, with smartphones, hackers can now infect the entire mobile marketplace with a single piece of cross-platform malware. If a virus can infect both Android and iOS, then it can infect essentially the entire population of Earth, because nearly no one uses any other type of phone. And rest assured, plenty of cross-platform viruses already exist.

In any marketplace, monopolies can be terrible things. Monopolies mean that one or a few enormous companies control everything, and so there is very little variety or consumer bargaining power. You want a phone that's more secure against malware? Too bad, you have no other vendors to choose from. You want a phone that doesn't spy on you and collect your personal data? Too bad, every available phone does this. You want a phone that's sturdier, so that you don't need to spend an extra $200 on screen protectors and cases? Too bad, there's no competitor in the marketplace to force Google and Apple to do things differently.

We depend on our phones for all of our personal data. And now that BlackBerry is gone, all of that data has become a whole lot less secure. Here's hoping a new contender will step up to protect our data, because Apple and Google most certainly won't.


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