Questions have been raised regarding the order to make the use of Bijoy keyboard, manufactured by the company owned by the posts and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar, mandatory.

The people concerned say, keyboards or mobile apps are not on the mandatory products’ list of the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI). Therefore, there is no scope to make its use mandatory. No government can issue an order to make the use of a product or service, manufactured by a specific company, mandatory.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) issued a letter to the mobile phone manufacturing and importing companies saying that there is an obligation of using Bijoy keyboard in all the imported and locally manufactured mobile phones.

The letter further instructs the concerned companies to collect the android package kit (APK) for Bijoy keyboard free of cost from the BTRC to install it on android phones. Otherwise, the companies will not get the NOC (no objection certificate) to sell products.

Bijoy keyboard was innovated by posts and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar. The Ananda Computers, established by Mustafa Jabbar, is the supplier of Bijoy keyboards.

As per the data on the website of Ananda Computers, Mustafa Jabbar holds the copyright of Bijoy keyboard. Notably, The BTRC is an organisation under the posts and telecommunications ministry.

The letter from the BTRC mentioned ‘government directives’ for making Bijoy keyboard obligatory. However, there was no mention as to under which law or which directives of the government such an instruction has been issued. These correspondents tried to get comments from the BTRC on this issue, but failed.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Wednesday, posts and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar gave an explanation about the matter. He said that the Bangladesh Computer Council (BBC) under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division has developed a standard for keyboards based on the Bijoy keyboard.

The BSTI accepted that standard in 2018. The BTRC decided to distribute that standard developed by the ICT division free of cost. The BTRC is bound to follow the standard of the ICT division.

The telecommunication minister told Prothom Alo over the phone that the government has set a standard. Therefore, that standard fixed by the government must be followed during the government work.

When asked if there’s any conflict of interest if an agency run by a minister gives an order to make the product or service of that minister’s company compulsory, Mustafa Jabbar said there’s no conflict of interest. As a minister it’s his duty to implement government-prescribed standards.

Concerned people said that Bangladesh Computer Council is the agency entrusted with providing the technical support in determining the standards of ICT-related products and services. Only BSTI has the power to declare the draft standards, produced by that agency as ‘Bangladesh Standards’, after reviewing it.

The agency has more than 4,500 standards. However, there are 229 products and services on the compulsory product list.

That is to say, license has to be taken from BSTI and national standards have to be followed to sell these products and services. There’s obligation for the rest of them.

Deputy director of BSTI’s CM (Certification Marks) wing Md Reazul Haque told Prothom Alo, they don’t have smartphone keyboards on their compulsory product list.

Mentioning Bijoy key-board directly, BTRC’s letter has stated about making its use compulsory. In fact, cellphone manufacturers and importers have been told to collect the APK file of Bijoy keyboard from BTRC and make arrangements to install them on phones, within three days of receiving the letter.

When asked to learn about this issue supreme-court lawyer Mustafizur Rahman Khan told Prothom Alo, the direction must include under which act the direction is given. And, no government agency can issue any directive mentioning the name of any company’s products or services.

If necessary, they can recommend a certain standards only. If that standard is followed, any company can be eligible to provide product and service.

All the key-boards in app store

World’s top ICT company Google (alphabet) manufactures the cellphone operating system (OS) android. Cellphone manufacturers produce and market cellphones using this operating system of Google. Apart from that, IPhone, produced my US’s Apple Incorporation is run with their own operating system IOS.

Google play store has quite a few Bangla keyboard apps. As per records till Wednesday 7.30pm, a keyboard named Ridmik has been downloaded more than 50 million times whereas Ridmik classic key-board has more than 10 million downloads.

Meanwhile ‘Bangla Keyboard: Bangla Typing’ has also been downloaded 10 million times. And, Bijoy Android Keyboard, of Ananda Computers, established by posts and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.

That means, Bijoy keyboard is quite behind in terms of popularity. Meanwhile, Bijoy keyboard wasn’t found rummaging through Apple’s IStore. Ridmik was there though.

While installing Bijoy keyboard on the cellphone, it was found that Google was sending a warning message. It stated, if installed this app, there’s a risk that this app has the ability to collect all texts. There could be personal data (could be passwords, credit card numbers) among them.

Analysing the privacy policy of Bijoy keyboard, found on Play Store, senior lecturer at the law department of University of Malaya, Mohammad Ershadul Karim told Prothom Alo when it comes to using any cellphone app, the privacy policy, which describes user’s rights and service provider’s responsibilities, becomes highly important.

Bijoy’s privacy policy lacks many basic themes. The safety system of the key-board isn’t completely sealed, as mentioned in its own privacy policy. Basically the policy has been taken from a free website, that’s been mentioned as well.

He said, “As a customer or user, why would I want to have an app of this sort, why would I be forced. Who would take responsibility of safeguarding my data?”

Technologists say that cellphone’s android version has Google’s own keyboard named G-board already installed in them. Different languages including Bangla can be written using that.

It works fine, even without downloading any other app separately. However, many use different keyboards for comfort reasons. Any keyboard can be deleted. If wished, a keyboard can be deleted.

Mustafa Jabbar has said that BTRC is providing Bijoy keyboard for free. However, concerned people are saying that, other keyboards are free as well. Plus, the issue promotion is linked with making a keyboard compulsory on all cellphones.

Hassle and cost to ‘increase’

Around 14 companies manufacture smartphones in the country. Besides, some also import mobile phones. About 10 million smartphones are sold in a year.

Some companies of this sector have said that it will create extra hassle for them to market mobile phones after installing Bijoy keyboard in them.

Bangladesh Mobile Phone Manufacturing Association president and Transsion Bangladesh Limited chief executive officer (CEO) Rizwanul Haque told Prothom Alo, “Android has the same APK package all over the world. There’s no separate package for any particular country.”

He said, Google's permission is required to bring each app under the package and certain fees have to be paid. Now that fee will also go up if the package is to include Bijoy.

*This report appeared in the online and print versions of Prothom Alo. It has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu and Nourin Ahmed Monisha.