Iranians say "no" to Nokia over reports of surveillance collaboration

A growing number of Iranian mobile phone consumers are boycotting Nokia after the release of reports that the mobile phone maker participated in "collaborations" with the Iranian government:
Wholesale vendors in the capital report that demand for Nokia handsets has fallen by as much as half in the wake of calls to boycott Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) for selling communications monitoring systems to Iran.

There are signs that the boycott is spreading: consumers are shunning SMS messaging in protest at the perceived complicity with the regime by the state telecoms company, TCI. Iran's state-run broadcaster has been hit by a collapse in advertising as companies fear being blacklisted in a Facebook petition. There is also anecdotal evidence that people are moving money out of state banks and into private banks.

Nokia is the most prominent western company to suffer from its dealings with the Iranian authorities. Its NSN joint venture with Siemens provided Iran with a monitoring system as it expanded a mobile network last year. NSN says the technology is standard issue to dozens of countries, but protesters believe the company could have provided the network without the monitoring function.

Siemens is also accused of providing Iran with an internet filtering system called Webwasher.

Iranian consumers boycott Nokia for 'collaboration' (Guardian UK, thanks Sepideh)


  1. I initially thought that targeting Nokia was a bit pointless, as most major IT/comm vendors have (or would be happy to have) similar contracts with Iran.

    But if Nokia can end up a head on the pike, serving as warning to the rest? Have at it.

  2. Aargh,

    I’m not convinced that boycotting is the way to go, but at the same time it may show results…

    I just changed to a Nokia handset from Motorola due to the horrific interface, I -like- Nokia’s interface, I like that they’re Finnish and weird (originally a rubber boot company).

    So what do we do? If Nokia didn’t supply a monitoring system, someone else would have… do we punish Nokia in the hopes of scaring away any cellphone company from deploying monitoring software? Maybe.

    In short I’m torn. All cell phone companies appear evil in some way, and the providers are the spawn of Cthulu itself. Maybe I should get a FRS radio instead. Damn, motorola again!

  3. When I lived in Finland, Nokia did still make rubber boots and lunchboxes and every other thing you could think of. When did they quit?

  4. I used the WebWasher desktop program years ago, brilliant ad blocking, javascript and cookie filtering.

    The enterprise-scale WebWasher was bought by CyberGuard in 2004 and is now owned by McAfee.

  5. Good to see people standing together on stuff like this. Companies need to fear consumer ire again.

    Sure, there’ll always be some bastard who will step in and do what bigger companies refuse to, but chances are their level of competence won’t be as good.

    I’ll actually support this. I was in the market for a new phone this week and I think I’ve just crossed Nokia off my list. Pitty, as they make fairly decent phones, but oh well.

  6. I think their rubber products may be under the “nokian” label… they are known for Nokian mountain bike tires, specifically the Gazzaloddi series which came in a ridiculous 3.0″ size for all your meadow stomping needs. Ran a set of those a few years ago.

  7. Hasn’t Nokia been in financial trouble for a while? They used to be the king of the handset world, but took a nosedive IIRC. This sort of bad PR on an international scale can’t be good. For them, anyway.

  8. hmm not going to ever buy a nokia again. An Att also for the wiretapping bullshit here in the states.

  9. There is so much good stuff here I don’t understand people’s reservations.

    Companies that care only about money, that are willing to assist in oppressing an entire country (ie. they don’t care about human rights), are only going to be motivated by the thought of their money evaporating. A boycott is absolutely 100% the right thing to do.

    The idea that Nokia shouldn’t be punished because someone else would do it if they didn’t is about as stupid as it gets. Go ahead, let someone else do it – and they can be boycotted and bankrupted as easily.

    If you reward unethical behaviour, what do you think is going to happen? Nokia needs to be burnt so badly that the next time they are in a position to do this kind of unethical baloney they’ll think twice. Ideally, being involved with human rights abuses should be a direct path to corporate ruin in all circumstances.

    Iran is an excellent example of how refusing to bow to oppression is the right thing (and not the easy thing) to do. If only people in the West had that kind of spine (“Oh, I don’t think we should boycott Nokia! If they don’t do it someone else will! Baa, Baaa. Pathetic).

  10. #11 – Very well put. I couldn’t agree more.

    You have to hope that if company A passes, that company B passes, C, D, E and so on…

    With any luck, by the time company Z (whom nobody has heard of) agrees to implement a draconian filtering solution, you have bypassed all the really smart technology companies, and the the filters are shoddy, crash frequently, and are easily bypassed.

    Such should be the case when oppressive regimes want to deploy high technology to help their oppression. It’s unacceptable, absolutely backwards, that the best and brightest of democratic countries are helping to propagate despotism.

  11. Wouldn’t it be funny if a government tried to mandate the sales of a certain brand to mitigate this kind of backlash?

  12. I have researched the phenomenon in the past with other Telcom providers. I have found that the same eavesdropping equipment that is being used by Nokia-Siemens is in fact the same one developed by Ericsson and utilized in the Greek Government scandal. Two people close to that investigation, both high end engineer types that new about the eavesdropping equipment installed on all Ericsson developed phones, were killed.

    Its sad to know that all these providers, Nokia-Siemens, Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent all provider this eavesdropping equipment in every cellular phone built. A remote switching by an engineer and your conversations and mail and text are all recorded for the world to see. It appears Iranians are just moving to other cell providers that have sold their technology to the government already. Whats the use?

  13. The Iranians are finally learning the non-violent way of fighting a totalitarian rule. The definition, according to the Webster Dictionary, of totalitarian is: a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (as censorship and terrorism)

  14. @11,12

    Sure, it sounds good to say we’ll boycott the company that does something we don’t like, but the reality of digital (and most other) technology is that once something is easy it is pretty much moot.

    Once you have your packets streaming unencrypted over the air or through a network (email etc) it is trivially simple for someone to filter them for evil.

    This is how Bush managed warrantless wiretapping so quickly… the data was there to be read easily, and some sys admin probably already had your emails scrolling down his screen because he felt it was cool.

    We can tell Nokia this is a bad idea by not buying their products, and this may be our only recourse, but it’s not going to stop the monitoring…. Nokia coming out with personal data encryption tools would however be a change of face.

    Remember, the corporation with a green ad campaign probably just spilled something toxic, the corporation with the “great personalized service” ad campaign probably just scored last on a survey.

  15. All telecom equipment has to comply with ETSI and ITU-T standards, one of which is titled “Handover interface for the lawful interception of telecommunications traffic” (ETSI TS 101 671) which specifies a standarised interface for wiretapping (specific technical details can be found in other ETSI TS). Every single telecom switch is capable of monitoring phonecalls and other communication media, why are you pointing your finger at Nokia-Siemens? Have you checked other manufacturers? The only difference is that Nokia won the bids in Iran, others lost them.

  16. Good points, Anonymous #21. No wonder the thread has stopped after your comment. I should say I find this kind of idealism as on display on this thread irritating. These days everybody wants to be Mahatma Gandhi or at least Martin Luther King, as it costs people nothing besides an effort to raise a finger to point at big business, governments, politicians or any other convenient target to blame for all the world’s problems, whatever as long as it’s not oneself.

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