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Apple May Be Breaking the Law With Policy On iPhone Unlocks 385

Posted by Zonk
from the read-the-fine-print dept.
an anonymous reader writes "Apple's recent decision to void warranties for folks that unlocked their iPhones may wind them up in legal hot water. The site Phone News points out that Apple appears to have broken a key warranty law relevant to SIM unlocks. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a law decades old, would seem to prevent Apple from voiding warranties in the way it is threatening to do with the iPhone, or so the site argues. 'The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act states that Apple cannot void a warranty for a product with third-party enhancements or modifications to their product. The only exception to this rule is if Apple can determine that the modification or enhancement is responsible [for] damaging the product in question ... The legal [questions are]: Is the SIM Unlock process that has become mainstream doing damage to iPhone? And, also, is Apple designing future software updates to do damage to iPhone when said SIM Unlock code is present?'"
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Apple May Be Breaking the Law With Policy On iPhone Unlocks

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  • by mjpaci (33725) * on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:45AM (#20743257) Homepage Journal
    ...from a few days ago is a better lithmus test for this act, don't you think?
  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:51AM (#20743361)
    Apple knows that the best course is to protect their exclusive contract, not to leave the phones as-is, and certainly not to shrug off people hacking their iPhones. Apple isn't doing this because they dislike their customers; they are doing it because they don't respect their customers. They also happen to be thwarting attempts to sync iPods with software other than iTunes -- I suppose this is also a completely normal, acceptable practice, to prevent people who use Amarok or Rhythmbox from syncing up their iPod?

    Maybe they didn't tell their developers to find a way to cause hacked iPhones to stop functioning. But I doubt that when one of their developers said at a meeting, "...and this update will cause unlocked iPhones to stop functioning..." they thought anything other than, "Good!"

  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:52AM (#20743389)
    All the people posting here that, somehow, the warranty defines your rights or a manufacturer's responsibilities are absolutely 100% wrong.

    Federal, state, and local statutes trump warranties every time.

    If Apple knew, or should have known, that its firmware will destroy an iPhone regardless of after market modification, it *MUST* exercise care to prevent this from happening.

    Any defense of Apple that does not account for law or relevant legal precedent are, at best, flawed.
  • by drcagn (715012) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:56AM (#20743447) Homepage
    Apple has already explicitly stated that they are not going to intentionally or proactively do anything to unlocked phones.

    No, Apple has said that they are not going to intentionally or proactively do anything to people who write third party applications.
    On the other hand, Apple has said that they are going to do what they can to stop unlockers.
  • by svendsen (1029716) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:56AM (#20743451)
    Except your statement assumes that Apple hacked a few iPods into the exact same state as all the hacked iPhones and already ran a patch to see what would happen.

    My feeling is why waste that time and moeny? THey will build a patch that will work with a non hacked iPhone 100%. They won't spend a single dime testing it on a hacked one (why should they the ROI on that is a negative). Simply say we can;t guarantee what it will do on a system with a changed state not done by Apple.

    From what some posters are posting on here (not the parent just what I have read) is that Apple should somehow make sure the patch will work with every combination of a hacked iPhone. Hmm wonder what that would cost.
  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IANAAC (692242) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:57AM (#20743477)

    Is the SIM Unlock process that has become mainstream doing damage to iPhone?

    Who said it's mainstream? I know of no one that has actualy unlocked their iphone.

  • by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:59AM (#20743527)
    See my post here [slashdot.org]. Firmware shouldn't be able to cause permanent damage to the hardware, and the user should be able to recover the device from a botched firmware upgrade (or a bad hack job), without a JTAG. Not ensuring those two things will cause problems for Apple, even if they can discourage people from trying to hack the iPhone.

    Have you ever used a PDA or graphing calculator that required a JTAG to un-brick after a failed update? It's simply unacceptable in those markets. Why should Apple get away with it in the iPhone?
  • by goombah99 (560566) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:10AM (#20743717)
    You are plugging a radio device into a regulated liscenced network. You have a responsibility not to screw with the emissions of the device or misuse it. More than a responsibily--a legal obligation. But Apple also has a responsibility to try to prevent misuse of the device since it can't be expected that every user knows what they are doing and can weigh the ramifications of software installation. They need to make it reasonably safe but beyond that it's the end user that commits the crime.

    It's also remotely plausible software can ruin the device and even increase the risk of fire. So making it hard to mess with also makes sense from that perspective. This is much more of a minor concern than the former, as there are already many perfectly safe battery operated computers. The reason it matters here at all is simply the numbers game. Unlike most moddable handhelds, theres millions of these things and they are very likely to be operated on airplanes and public transportation. Some prudence is required.

    But beyond apples need to due dilligence above they also have the desire to make the thing have some value to the carriers and to the music sellers. Thus locking them helps the carriers. If there's a kickback for sales then it lessens the initial purchase cost to the consumers too. And it makes a market for DRMd music. (people who whine about fairlplay can't be pleased--it's a freakin fair-use speedbump folks, not a lock in. At least for the music. Video is a different story.). People may not like DRM but the mass consumer likes having a marketplace so they want to make that possible. To do that they need to enhance the sales value to attract the sellers. Personally I'm pretty happy with the line apple walks between buyers and sellers interests on audio sales. You can disagree with me on the DRM, but please see the point that apple has its reasons for needing to keep the device secure given its middleman position in the market.

    Finally, my guess is that like their video DRM (as opposed to audio) they are not trying to win the cat and mouse game here but simply perpetuate it at a level where the rodent population is tolerable. hardcore folks will play update games. Everyone else will not.

    So sure there may be sim card laws that say they can't prevent that. But they can prevent people from unlocking many of the other parts of the phone which may amount to the same thing, indirectly.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:14AM (#20743775)
    This hash has absolutely no technical use. The iPods worked fine before the hash, and exhibit the same level of functionality with the hash. All the hash does is restrict how the iPod can be synced.

    Or can you demonstrate a legitimate, technical need for that hash to be there?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:16AM (#20743819)
    If Apple knew, or should have known, that its firmware will destroy an iPhone regardless of after market modification, it *MUST* exercise care to prevent this from happening.

    They did. They told you not to fuck around with modifications, dummy.
  • by PeterBrett (780946) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:17AM (#20743831) Homepage

    I think you'll find that locking phones in the UK is only permitted because the carrier subsidises the cost of the phone.

    Then I guess we'll find out whether the iPhone is locked to a carrier in the UK when it comes out, won't we?

    It will be.

    And if it is, then what? A bunch of crying and whining?

    Probably a consumer rights lawsuit after they void a couple of people's warranties for unlocking. But not from me. I really couldn't give a shit about the iPhone or any of Apple's other predatory business practices.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:21AM (#20743881) Homepage
    ...like the printer instruction books that warn you that third-party ink cartridges may damage your machine.

    It could even be just what Apple says: they've found that there really is an innocent, unintended incompatibility between their updates and the hack. Certainly, there are perennial conflicts between Apple OS updates and software tweaks like Unsanity's "Haxies," and I don't think Apple is doing it deliberately.

    I think Apple is using scare tactics, both to keep AT&T happy and to keep them out of the nightmare scenario of being forced to provide support for hacked iPhones.

    I could be wrong, of course, but I'm curious to wait and see whether iPhones actually do get bricked... and whether a smoking-gun memo will emerge--"The job's not complete 'till unlocked phones are dead meat"
  • Simple question.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scubamage (727538) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:30AM (#20744005)
    Ok, if you buy a brand new car with a warranty, and you then perform a bunch of aftermarket mods to it, including modifying the computer, should the manufacturer support it? No. You performed modification to a device which is meant to function in a specific way. You assume whenever you hack something you're voiding your warranty. There are books entitled, "How to have fun while voiding your warranty" about hardware hacks. You're just pissed because you bought a 500$ device, and now you face bricking it because you rushed out of the gate to mod it. You have implemented things from a 3rd party, not apple. Why should apple support things that aren't theirs? It is no longer the device they sold you. Turn to the 3rd party hack vendors to update. Seriously, you can't have the best of both worlds. Get the hell over it. The most important thing is that apple informed you. Imagine if they released the update and said nothing? At least now you can continue using your iphone as is. So really, you haven't lost anything.
  • by garyrich (30652) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:33AM (#20744053) Homepage Journal
    "Except your statement assumes that Apple hacked a few iPods into the exact same state as all the hacked iPhones and already ran a patch to see what would happen."

    IF you think they haven't already, I'd have to say you are barking mad.

    "My feeling is why waste that time and moeny?"

    What does it cost to have some junior level dev guy hack one and play around with it for a day and write up a report? Basically nothing.

    "THey will build a patch that will work with a non hacked iPhone 100%. They won't spend a single dime testing it on a hacked one (why should they the ROI on that is a negative). "

    OF course this is true, but you are answering a different question. Real testing and "validation" would be very expensive. Particularly since that validation would have to meet the standards of AT&T, which obviously has a vested interest in having any such thing fail validation testing.

    "Simply say we can;t guarantee what it will do on a system with a changed state not done by Apple."

    Unofficially, they will know perfectly well what it will do. If there are two roughly equal ways to implement a desired feature and and they know one of them breaks on the hacked phone -- that is the one that will be used. Apple would reverse engineer an unrelated reason for why they picked that implementation.

    "From what some posters are posting on here (not the parent just what I have read) is that Apple should somehow make sure the patch will work with every combination of a hacked iPhone. Hmm wonder what that would cost."

    They have no such obligation, totally agree. What they do have is a contract with AT&T to ensure and protect their exclusive carrier rights. If they don't do everything legally possible to make sure people can't switch carriers - they will sure Apple for everything they can.
  • by walt-sjc (145127) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:40AM (#20744171)
    Except your statement assumes that Apple hacked a few iPods into the exact same state as all the hacked iPhones and already ran a patch to see what would happen.

    That's a pretty damn safe assumption to make. Any COMPETENT product engineering team / product management team would ABSOLUTELY do so.

    You KNOW that they have at LEAST applied the unlock hack to phones to see exactly what it does and how it works. You also know that they are working on (and surely finished by now) a patch that "undoes" the unlock hack.

    It would be ridiculous to think that they would make the statement that their updates will brick a phone without knowing for sure.

    It would also be ridiculous to think that any information on this at Apple would remain secret during a court case and the resulting subpoenas / depositions.

    Come on. We, and Apple, just are not that stupid.
  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:46AM (#20744257) Homepage

    since the software for the iPhones whole purpose is based around the AT&T network, yet it does mean they do not have to support it.
    AT&T's network bis essentially a bog-standard GSM system. There is nothing special about it the iPhone can be "based around".
  • by XenoPhage (242134) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @11:57AM (#20744419) Homepage
    I read through some of the information on this Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and it seems that the purpose here was to ensure that manufacturers provided the consumer with a document that is both easy to understand, and not ambiguous. However, it does not put any stipulation on that manufacturer to prevent them from invalidating the warranty if you don't use the device correctly.

    However, this act falls a little short in the realm of electronics and firmware. Sure, Apple can't go around saying that your warranty will be void if you use a Motorolla bluetooth headset instead of an Apple one. But, can they say that the warranty is void if you use a different firmware? It seems to me that there's a gray area there. Firmware is required to make the device work, but it's provided by the manufacturer. So, can the manufacturer prevent you from using someone else's firmware by invalidating the warranty?

    I suppose the underlying question is, what does the warranty cover? If it's merely electronics, then perhaps the manufacturer cannot dictate the firmware used, but, in the event of a failure, they can surely attempt to load the device with "official" firmware in an effort to determine the problem. Of course, if the unit is completely dead, that won't help. In that instance, the question becomes more of a "what caused the failure" type of question.

    That's where 3rd party firmware can become a problem. How do you prove that the firmware was the cause and not the hardware? I'm sure it can be done, but to the satisfaction of the customer? And is it really Apple's responsibility to determine if the firmware was the cause? In the end, it may cost Apple quite a lot of money to make that determination, only to turn back to the customer and refuse the warranty claim. It's sort of a lose-lose situation.
  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @12:00PM (#20744479)
    Well, I'm not the smartest person on the planet, but everything you say seems exactly 180 degrees off. It isn't a company's responsibility to ensure their product works outside of the realm of how that company created the product to work. It IS the consumer's responsibility to take responsibility for any problems they cause to their product with unapproved hacks.

    Now if you'd like to bolster your claims to the contrary, why don't you actually post some relevant legal precedent for reference?

  • by homer_ca (144738) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @12:10PM (#20744605)
    Let's use your fuzzy dice example. What happens if an unlocked iPhone has a completely unrelated hardware failure, like the touchscreen or button? Apple would say the warranty is void, but the way I understand it, you can't void a warranty unless an unauthorized modification directly contributed to the failure.
  • by mstone (8523) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @12:22PM (#20744775)
    You haven't spent much time working with real-time signal processing systems, have you?

    By way of analogy, think about juggling: You don't throw the ball to where your hand is right now. You throw it to the correct spot in the pattern -- 12" off center, and 36" off the ground -- then make sure your hand is in the right place by the time the ball comes down. It requires some prediction and timing, but it's basically doable.

    Now try doing it in an earthquake. The 'correct spot in the pattern' is no longer a simple location. You have to predict where the ground will be when the ball comes down, and adjust your throw accordingly. That's a lot more complicated, and there's always a chance that something will happen between the throw and the catch that you didn't predict.

    The number of possible states and unpredictable events is more or less infinite, so there's no way you can possibly cover them all. The best you can do is try to keep everything within a range where you can spot the failures early enough to recover before they trigger a train wreck.

    Systems like that are delicate. Screw with the timing just a little, and you can bump a few 'recoverable' cases over into the 'train wreck' category. They won't show up right away, though.. you have to get just the right combination of events before the thing will hang.

    And with embedded systems, there's no option to shut down, reload the program, and start from a fresh, known state.

    And, of course, the job is just that much harder when someone else has fiddled with the system in ways you don't know about.

    Apple's announcement is just their way of saying they can't be positive they've hit every possible edge case that might cause this next update to interact badly with any unknown, unauthorized, and unsupported firmware tinkering people might have chosen to do on their own.

    Honestly, I don't know why there's so much fuss about this. Hacking the firmware is very much an "at your own risk" procedure, and anyone who pretends not to know that is being deliberately stupid.

    And why is everybody dumping this problem on Apple? Why aren't people yelling at the guys who released the unlocking software, demanding a "100% guaranteed or we'll replace your iPhone for free" reversion kit? If anyone should know how to return a hacked iPhone to its factory state, it would be the guys who hacked it in the first place.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @01:20PM (#20745701) Homepage

    It doesn't mean you can modify your car for more horsepower, and expect the manufacturer to cover the engine under warranty when it breaks.
    The issue is that people are modifying the engine and the warranty says that Apple will is thus to support the seat belts. It's like the guy who installed Linux on his laptop and HP refused to fix the broken keyboard.
  • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @02:00PM (#20746269) Homepage
    When you are designing and testing a product, you don't only test for how you WANT the product to be used, you test for how people are likely to use it in ways you DON'T want.

    The original post raises a number of questions, not least how the author managed to type in so much text and still be first post. Perhaps he is a subscriber.

    There are many interesting questions here, not least being whether Apple does have an interest in locking the phone, it is AT&T that bears the loss. Only Apple is getting paid some form of bounty for each phone from AT&T in return for the exclusive status. This looks and smells to me like a subsidy and I will bet it would to a UK judge as well.

    If this was Microsoft we were talking about there would be nobody defending the lock in strategy. OK, almost nobody since there are always some trolls.

    Europe has decided as a matter of public policy that customers have the right to use their phone on any carrier they choose. Apple's marketing plans are irrelevant to them. If Steve Jobs does not want to play according to the rules they set there will be no iPhones in Europe as in none, zip, zero, nada, nyett, non-parle-iPhone.

    Europe has come to a similar decision about DVD players, you can readily obtain unlocked DVD players in every part of Europe. The EU decided that the movie studios were using the zone system to enforce differential pricing. The RSS consortium has decided to ignore the fact that the manufacturers offering unlocked players are technically in breach of their agreement. They know that they would quite likely lose their patent rights entirely and suffer significant fines if they were to attempt to do so.

    Public policy trumps Steve Jobs and any exclusive contracts he might sign. It is as simple as that. Wearing a black turtleneck does not provide immunity from the EU anti-trust laws.

  • iPhone Warranty (Score:2, Insightful)

    by joeyblades (785896) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @09:39AM (#20754623)
    I'm confused. Apple's iPhone warranty clearly states:

    > Limitations| The Plan does not cover: ... unauthorized modification

    Clearly unlocking a phone is unauthorized modification. There are laws that enable individuals to unlock their own cell phones, but these laws do not require the OEM to honor the warranties on the equipment. Unlocking a phone is something you do at your own risk.

    Since the warranty is clear, I don't think Magnuson-Moss applies...

    As for firmware that causes damage to unlocked phones, I think Apple would be overstepping it's bounds. There are other ways to skin that cat. A simpler, less volitile solution would be for Apple to patent a custom SIM package and the iPhone would only work with SIM cards that Apple produced.

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