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Jobs' Next Fight — Dealing With iPhone Hackers 341

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the or-you-could-just-open-it-up dept.
An anonymous reader writes "With Steve Jobs' recent announcement of his intention to fight off the independent iPhone developers, the question worth asking is: How will Apple try to defeat the hackers: Software updates, or lawsuits? Will Apple risk losing its most frequently (ab)used legal tool, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in order to try and punish the developers of the iPhone unlocking tools? This CNET article explores the legal issues involved in this, which make it perfectly legal to reverse engineer your own iPhone, but illegal to share your circumventing source code with others."
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Jobs' Next Fight — Dealing With iPhone Hackers

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  • A few issues (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:39PM (#20670089)
    For the record, I will be surprised if Apple actively tries to re-lock already-unlocked phones, but I would not be surprised if they try to prevent unlocking in future firmware updates, considering the current unlock mechanism uses an overflow condition that will likely be, well, fixed in future updates (should Apple not fix a potentially exploitable buffer overflow on the iPhone?). Then, someone will find some other exploitable condition to unlock the iPhone, and the game continues.

    Every GSM handset under the sun has been unlocked. The main difference with iPhone is that people are more likely to do regular full firmware updates with the iPhone due to the kind of product it is and the ease of doing so via iTunes, as opposed to other GSM handsets. But I can't see Apple relocking already-unlocked phones.

    That said, while an explicit exemption [arstechnica.com] exists that allows end customers to legally unlock GSM handsets in the US, no such requirement exists for a vendor to allow it, document it, or provide such a capability to the customer (see also "DMCA Exemption Attorney Weighs in on iPhone Unlocking" [ipodobserver.com].

    Further, requirements in various jurisdictions that the carrier provide a means to unlock the handset after the contract term, i.e., after the subsidy is paid, MAY NOT at all apply to the iPhone, since the iPhone is technically unsubsidized. Apple appears to be negotiating backchannel subsidies and unprecedented monthly kickbacks [thestreet.com] from carriers...but the iPhone itself still isn't subsidized under the traditional subsidy model: you can buy an iPhone, walk out, and NEVER activate it, and the phone is yours to keep. However, this may also mean that no carrier is ever obligated to unlock it for you.

    Also, Apple is depending on the expected profits from AT&T kickbacks for AT&T activations...that's how the iPhone price is structured. Now, if you can figure out how to unlock your phone and use it on another carrier, great. But also don't cry if Apple throws roadblocks in the way. You can argue that "it's only good for Apple" if people get to use unlocked iPhones, but that's not your decision to make, unfortunately - it's Apple's. Don't get me wrong: YOU can decide it's good for YOU. But you don't get to decide that it's good for Apple, or anyone else. And with things like seamless activation via iTunes, Visual Voicemail, and all the tight integration that requires enormous amounts of backend cooperation with the carrier partner (think about how iPhone activation works and how it must have been to pull something like that off), is it any surprise Apple wants to keep the iPhone experience with the carrier partner?

    And think of all the other ways iPhone is unique: you get to walk out of the store with it sealed in a box, it can be easily bought as a gift, the customer does activation themselves in the comfort of their own homes with a pleasant interface, and so on.

    So if people can figure out how to unlock the phone, great. But don't expect Apple to not fix actual bugs like buffer overflows in the phone that are coincidentally used to enable unlocking, and don't assume that ANYONE will ever be "required" to unlock iPhones, unless it is simply flat out illegal to have a SIMlocked phone in a particular jurisdiction, in which case Apple would probably elect to skip that market entirely.

    This is a lot like the Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware arguments. People always say it's "better for Apple" or "free advertising for Apple". No. Pirating the OS is not good for Apple. And even if you say "but I'd buy it for $129!" that also doesn't solve it...the $129 price is predicated on the fact that there is Apple hardware that goes along with it. So then you say, "Well, I'd even pay $250 or more! Would that fix it?" No, because part of the Apple experience is the seamless integration and things "just workin
  • by Speare (84249) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:39PM (#20670095) Homepage Journal

    Jobs said, "It's a constant cat and mouse game," according to ComputerWorld's account of the discussion. "We try to stay ahead. People will try to break in, and it's our job to stop them breaking in."

    Mr. Jobs, can you tell us why it's your job to do that? You sell hardware. We are the customer. Is AT&T paying you to keep that exclusivity by all technical means? Oh, wait, I see. We are the consumer, not the customer. See, whenever industry uses the word consumer, it means there's someone else (such as another company) who is actually the customer. "The customer is always right" doesn't apply if we're just sheeple consumers.

  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Barsteward (969998) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:42PM (#20670161)
    doesn't Apple get a share of the line charges from A&T?
  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:46PM (#20670225)
    Apple is an American-based company, Slashdot is an American-based site and, last I heard, the majority of users were in America. Being American-centric makes sense in this case. However, Slashdot also covers other countries, as recently as the last Michael Geist column.
  • Re:Arr! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thornmaker (794873) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:47PM (#20670237)
    ironic, this coming from a man who 'went into business briefly in 1974 to build "blue boxes" that allowed illicit free long distance calls' (so says wikipedia)
  • Re:A few issues (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:56PM (#20670411)

    Also, Apple is depending on the expected profits from AT&T kickbacks for AT&T activations...that's how the iPhone price is structured.
    Really? Given that the price of the iphone is in line with the non-subsidized prices of most other GSM phones of similar complexity, it seems like Apple is doing something wrong if what you say is true.

    PS, posting anon because there are just too many apple flametards out there. Go ahead and burn your mod points on me anyway please!
  • I have always wondered why there are so many FOSS advocates who put up with Apple's DRM'd little empire. Somehow, if Apple does the same thing that Microsoft does, Apple gets a pass, but why? And perhaps, more important, what can the FOSS community do to move Apple in a more Free and open source direction.

    Are people really happy with Apple's contributions to BSD and Konqueror code?

    If people are willing to put up with lock down just because Apple products are slick, I have to ask, are Apple products really that much more slick than Compiz? Is slick performance alone enough of a difference that people will give a pass to Apple?

    I am not someone who believes everyone must use gNewSense and use only Free Software, because that is inconvenient for most users. But can't we make a little more effort to support vendors such as HP, Dell, Zareason [zareason.com], TechCollective.com [techcollective.com], Emperor Linux [emperorlinux.com], and other similar vendors who offer decent hardware with a better balance of Free to non-Free software?

    IMHO, desktop Linux is good enough that we should try to encourage people to give it a shot, rather than just putting up with tyrannical insistence on having everything his own way, including his own little DRM'd desktop. Why put up with a company that would resort to the DMCA to attack its own customers? I understand that there is a lot about the iPhone that is cool, and yes it is a nice platform to hack, but why go to such lengths to hack it when you can't share your hacks?
  • Re:Easy to pay! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Braino420 (896819) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @02:14PM (#20670685)
    Interesting. I was under the impression that Steve Jobs thought Apple was a hardware company, if so, why would he care about something that could make him sell more hardware? Oh I see, they lure you in with the hardware and then lock you down with the software!
  • by gillbates (106458) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @02:19PM (#20670747) Homepage Journal

    Oh, wait - it's not locked in the first place. It does everything the iPhone does, except calls, and cost $300 less. Actually, it does more - I can run whatever code I please, and even write my own programs on the Palm. iPhone owners share the dubious distinction of owning a computer they aren't legally allowed to program.

    I'd like to own an iPhone. Honestly, I would. But, though I can pay for the phone, only AT&T can own it. Jobs, Apple, and AT&T want it that way, and if you've paid for an iPhone, you've essentially told them that they can have your cake and eat it too.

    The very thing which makes the computer such an enabling device is that it can be reprogrammed to perform almost any task. Unlike the single function devices of the past - such as a calculator, which performs at most one function - a computer is a totally open piece of hardware. The task which it can be programmed to do are limited only by the ingenuity and creativity of the programmer/user.

    Until now. With the advent of cellphones, especially locked ones, we are seeing a new trend in computers. Rather than expanding the functionality of computers, they seek to limit it, in order to serve the greed of Corporate America. A device which formerly could be repurposed for any task the owner thought fit is now restricted to performing only the functions which make the manufacturer money. Consumer benefit beyond the original purpose of the device is explicitly and legally forbidden.

    And here ends the computer revolution. A formerly beautiful piece of machinery, capable of solving almost any problem, is reduced to serving the utilitarian greed of corporations, in effect, an intellectual slave of the willfully ignorant.

    How long before the same happens to the PC? When a PC can only be bought in conjunction with an internet service, and users are legally prevented from installing their own software?

    I hope those who buy the iPhone are prepared to deal with a future in which everything they possess is owned and licensed by a corporation. Because they're paving the way for the increased use of restricted, defective by design, hardware.

  • Re:asswipes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @02:38PM (#20670985)

    Wear an anti-bush t-shirt to a bush speech someday
    What happened to you when you did it?
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:39PM (#20671715) Journal
    Well, your comment shows you're on the OTHER extreme from "fanboyism" ....

    In reality, I think the iPhone *is* going to revolutionize the cellphone market. To say otherwise takes some rather close-minded thinking.

    Visual voicemail, for example, is a great enhancement to the tired "call in to pick up your saved messages" strategy everyone has been using since day 1. It wouldn't surprise me at all if AT&T starts making use of it on other new phones, and eventually, other carriers offer something similar as well to compete.

    It also raises the bar on browser usability. Safari on the iPhone is quite simply the BEST mobile web experience out there on a phone. This is bound to spur on others to improve their built-in browsers too.

    It's certainly an easier set-up experience than any carrier has ever given people before! Just buy a phone, take it home and let it sit around as long as you like. When you're ready to activate service, port an existing number over, etc. - you just click the options inside iTunes and do it yourself. No pushy salesperson to wait in line to speak with. No big "credit check" paperwork to fill out first and turn in to said pushy salesperson. No hassles with being "upsold" on accessories for your phone you didn't really want.

    Apple's "lock-in" with AT&T reminds me a lot of their buddying-up to the recording industry in order to get the iTunes music store launched. Sometimes, you're just shooting for something that's too big to accomplish completely on your own. (Apple was in no position to sign up hundreds of thousands of good artists on their own record label, just so they could then put that content THEY owned onto an online music store.) By the same token, they were in no position to build out their OWN cellular infrastructure, just to launch their new phone. So you have to dig into all the "red tape" and politics of joining an established partner - and hope you can create change one little piece at a time.
  • Not really wrong. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @03:42PM (#20671749) Journal
    Now if you're talking about people who ARE AT&T iPhone customers that simply choose to unlock their iPhone, I'd agree [that Apple doesn't lose money if the phones are unlocked] - to a point. But I'm talking about iPhones unlocked and never activated or used on AT&T, which is going to be an increasing number of iPhones. That's a much bigger market than you think it is.

    But the question is, if the iPhone couldn't be unlocked:
      a) How many of those phones would have been bought and activated with AT&T (at a potential gain for Apple of $250-$200 bounty plus $9/month for 2 years), and
      b) How many would have NOT BEEN SOLD (at whatever their profit margin is on the vastly overpriced piece of commodity hardware)?

    IMHO, while a) is very lucrative per phone, b) is a LOT more phones. Especially if the ability to crack iPhones retards the rise of lower-priced but unlocked competitive products. (For starters there are areas of the US that AT&T doesn't cover but some other carrier does. People who live/work/travel there have no reason to buy an iPhone unless they can unlock it.)

    Apple needed a network partner to insure connectivity and enable the launch. And the partnership is an enormous revenue stream. So they needed to launch the phone as a locked product and not visibly encourage circumvention of their partner's lock-in. But as long as it doesn't jeopardize their revenue from the phones that are subscribed with their partner it's in their interest to have people buy additional phones and unlock them to use with other carriers.
  • Re:Easy to pay! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GeckoX (259575) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @04:18PM (#20672153)
    Actually, it's almost exclusively the service providers that cripple these features and try to force you to pay for what the manufacturer provides for free.

    All current Sony-Ericsson phones come with the means to very easily set your own ringtones. A lot of them can apply ringtones directly from any of your mp3's on the phone. However...bought my 810i from Rogers. Custom firmware which forces you to buy ringtones from Rogers...along with a ton of other little things like that

    Thankfully, it took all of 5 minutes to find and re-flash the Sony firmware and the phone was wide open again.

    Back on the direct topic, this antic from Apple pisses me off, but matters naught. It's standard practice for Apple and fully expected...which is one of many reasons why I won't pay the Apple Tax. If Rogers actually tried to stop me from unlocking features that that I should have access to anyways, I'd refuse to buy products from them as well. Thankfully they're not quite that stupid...er, let me rephrase that: Thankfully Rogers is TOO stupid to figure out that it's that easy to change things back to the way They Should Be In The First Place ;)

    Whatever happened to selling good products that people want? That companies are even attempting these practices...Please people, do the ONLY thing that can change this: Vote with your wallets!!! Stop going: "Hey, why'd they do that? That sucks!!! Ah well, here's my money anyways!" You're really not doing anybody favors.

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