Nokia: The new Great Satan

A move to boycott the Finnish phone manufacturer's products grows in Iran

Published July 20, 2009 4:52PM (EDT)

"Nokia has a responsibility to ensure its technology is used in an ethical manner," declares the Boycott Nokia for Iran Crackdown" petition page.

Some Iranians, reports Radio Free Europe, are blaming Nokia for selling the Iranian government communications network monitoring technology that can, and has, been used to eavesdrop on cellphone calls and text messages. (Found via Emmanuel at the International Political Economy Zone.) So a movement is afoot to boycott Nokia phones. Thus: Death to Nokia!

From Radio Free Europe:

According to the moderate Iranian daily "Etemad Melli," many Iranians who sympathize with the protests are boycotting Nokia for providing the Iranian government with the capability to tap mobile telephones, scramble the SMS text messages used by many protesters to communicate, and interrupt calls.

The paper, which belongs to reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi, headlined its story by saying Nokia sales in Iran have been halved as a result of the boycott, although no figures were provided to support the claim. The report quoted phone sellers as saying that the price of Nokia cell phones has fallen in Iran, and that many people are exchanging their Nokia phones for other brands.

Radio Free Europe's Golnaz Esfandiari goes on to report that it is exceedingly difficult to come up with any hard data supporting the assertion that Nokia sales are depressed. It's also hard to know whether the real problem here is Nokia or the fact that the Iranian state has centralized power over all communications technology in Iran. When the state decides, for example, that all international Internet communications must go through just one gateway, the potential for censorship is baked into the system. If Nokia didn't provide the monitoring technology, someone else would have.

Perhaps more interesting, in the long run, however, is whether consumer boycotts of this sort will continue to gain more traction. How the World Works saw "Food, Inc." over the weekend. After an hour and a half or so of distressing footage of slaughterhouses, the documentary ends on a surprisingly upbeat note, declaring that consumers choosing which produccts to buy (grass-fed beef! organic turnips!) have the real power to effect change, even in the face of massive corporate agribusiness control over the levers of market and political power.

Consumer choice seems like a feeble thread in the face of authoritarian regimes like Iran or China or governments coopted by the power of capital (the U.S.). But in a country like Iran, where votes don't seem to count, maybe it's the only real choice left.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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