Does President Obama BBM White House Staff? I Asked CTO Megan Smith, And...
As the top appointed technology official in the country, the position of U.S. Chief Technology Officer is an important entity in the Obama administration. But don't expect the position to come with the perk of direct, spontaneous text message exchanges with POTUS: CTO Megan Smith does not BBM President Obama, because, well, no one has that kind of access to the leader of the free world — except maybe Michelle and his daughters.
Speaking to Bustle at the Matrix Awards event on April 27 in Manhattan, Smith — whose work requires using both a BlackBerry, Obama's cell phone of choice, and an Android smartphone — said:
I do not [BBM the president]. We're very careful about his time because it's very important.
While the 21st century may have been disappointing to some — end-of-the-world conspiracy theorists and flying car-hopefuls among them — the piece of technology that has ostensibly had the biggest firsthand impact on our lives is the smartphone, churned out annually by companies trying to woo our aesthetic sensibilities and drill unnecessary holes in our pockets. Except it seems the president is immune to all of that. Obama's relationship with his BlackBerry, a loyalty that is perhaps dismaying to Apple and Samsung and delightful to the folks over at crumbling BlackBerry Limited, is well known to many and dumbfounding to some.
It's a bizarre contrast to the vast technological strides the White House has made since Obama took office at the West Wing. In 2009, he announced the new position of U.S. Chief Technology Officer — Smith is the third person and only woman to fill that role — as part of his efforts at a happy union between government and technology. But the leader of the free world remains a steadfast BlackBerry user, shunning its sleeker, shinier touch-screen compatriots.
As it turns out, there's a valid reason for that. The fledging BlackBerry partnered with the NSA to develop a special security software, SecureVoice, that protects the phone from hackers and spies and limits him to only 10 contacts, Michelle and VP Joe Biden among them. Neither Apple, Samsung, nor any other smartphone company has a security system foolproof enough to protect POTUS' information and exchanges. Perhaps the iPhone may have tempted him at some point, but he ultimately stuck with the BlackBerry for security reasons.
President Obama's love for his BlackBerry has been rather well-documented. As president-elect, he told The New York Times he was clinging to his BlackBerry, even saying that "they’re going to pry it out of my hands." Obama later won a fight against the NSA to let him continue using his BlackBerry with an updated security system, and became the first president to use email, which automatically made him the most tech-savvy POTUS of all time.
In fact, there is a Tumblr page dedicated to his dedication to his BlackBerry, though it seems to have been left neglected after just a few posts from 2009 — which, if you ask me, seems like a rather apt representation of how society turned indifferent to the little black machine blocks. Last year, to the bemusement of many journalists, Obama hurriedly turned back while boarding Marine One because he had forgotten his BlackBerry, resulting in a badly-needed PR boost for the company.
But it seems Obama's interest in the iPhone may have been renewed: he was spotted eyeing the ambassador of Bahrain's iPhone 6 in September at a United Nations meeting, and reportedly asked about it. If he ultimately gets the green light to change his phone, BlackBerry could well lose its most visible — and probably most loyal — customer.
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