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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 daveschroeder (516195) * on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:42AM (#20743221)
    It's not about unlocking phones.

    It's about the radio firmware being altered in an unknown way, or even damaged. (Note: this is DIFFERENT from jailbreaking, OS hacking, and installing third party apps.)

    Why should that be covered under warranty?

    [...] is Apple designing future software updates to do damage to iPhone when said SIM Unlock code is present?

    NO!

    Absolutely not.

    Apple has already explicitly stated that they are not going to intentionally or proactively do anything to unlocked phones. Even a small amount of logic would reveal that when the baseband radio firmware is in an unknown state (this is different from the OS on the phone, and doing the "hacking" to install third party applications, and so on), future updates, either to the firmware or the OS or both, may break things. Even a software update that expects the radio to accept commands or interact with the OS in a particular way could end up breaking things.

    Oh, I know a lot of you really want to believe Apple is actually going to intentionally damage phones that are unlocked. Sorry to disappoint, but that is simply not the case.

    If there is any legal issue that erupts over this, Apple will very easily be able to prove that there is no way for it to predict the state of the hardware when it does updates when it has been altered, perhaps irreparably depending on the method, in an unknown fashion by the user.

    Further, I think it's funny that some seem to carp about how Apple will be "fixing" the mechanism via which phones are currently unlocked, as if it's evil. Of course they will! It's a general buffer overflow that happens to be used in the unlock process. Should Apple not fix an exploitable buffer overflow in the OS just so people can continue to unlock phones? The arguments on this topic are laughable.

    Moreover, while end-user unlocking of handsets is legal in the US under the current DMCA exemption, the vendor is under NO OBLIGATION to support the phones in such a state with future software/firmware updates. I can hear all the "But what about the UK?" people chiming in now. Apple will do whatever is required by law in any jurisdiction. If a certain jurisdiction REQUIRES unlocked phones, Apple may skip that market entirely (for now). Even in the UK it isn't as clear as some people like to think it is, because the phone technically isn't subsidized, meaning that it may not have to be unlocked after the subsidy is repaid - because there is no subsidy. And a large part of Apple's iPhone strategy with carriers is tight integration for things like the activation process: things that simply aren't supported with anyone but the partner carrier.

    Remember: it's "legal" to do a lot of things which also might end up voiding the warranty of a particular product. Something being "legal" doesn't imply all of these things people seem to think it does. A lot of odd arguments appeared in the last story about this, saying that since the DMCA exemption allows handset unlocking, somehow, Apple must actively enable it. Wrong.

    Customers have a choice:

    - Don't ever apply a software update after unlocking (unless applying said update to a phone unlocked using your exact mechanism has been confirmed to work by others), and your phone will stay unlocked

    - Don't buy an iPhone

    Don't act like Apple is somehow bound to support all unlocked phones via any mechanism, some which may damage the phone, in any and all future software updates, especially when it can't possibly predict all iterations. You don't have to buy an iPhone.

    And if you want to argue about simlocking in general, it's a very common practice the world over, and your beef isn't with Apple. If Apple just sold all iPhones unlocked, like some people think they should, there would be nowhere near the tight integration with any and all carriers, the pleasant do-it-yourself activation process that is part of what makes the iPhone genius, not to mention the economic arguments, where
  • My question is... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by IwarkChocobos (881084) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:58AM (#20743497)
    Why should apple care? Doesn't unlocking a phone only take customers away from the carrier? Apple already got the profit from the phone when it was purchased, who gives a shit if someone wants to use it on a different network. If anyone should be pissed, it's Cingular/ATT. Also, this practice of voiding warranties for "hacking phones" is not new. I've hacked my Verizon Razr V3c because it just works way better with the hacks (all it does it enable features that are normally disabled, I dont change the software) and guess what, that voids the warranty with Verizon, but not with my phone insurance company.
  • by p0tat03 (985078) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @09:58AM (#20743501)
    Except, AFAIK, the burden of proof is upon Apple to show that the SIM unlock process being employed by the customer is bricking the phone. I have an unlocked iPhone, and as far as I can tell the only tricky part about the unlock process is the buffer overflow to get into the phone in the first place - certainly not something that will damage hardware. The firmware modifications are not real modifications, so much as it appears to be flipping a switch - literally a setting that Apple had placed in there in the first place. The phone supports unlocked mode, and no custom firmware code is being written, just settings, AFAIK. Correct me if I'm wrong here.
  • by Aurisor (932566) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:08AM (#20743661) Homepage
    I don't know if you've written any software yourself, but the first rule about deploying patches to consumer software is that you are NOT allowed to make any assumptions about the state of the hardware or software.

    The reason people are up in arms is because apple has raised the possibility of this update permanently bricking your iPhone. That possibility is unacceptable. Any decent programmer would just have the update checksum the software and firmware and overwrite any hacked copies with the new version. None of your arguments about altered radio firmware and so on have any bearing on the issue...what does it matter which piece of firmware we're talking about? If an update requires consistency on the part of other elements of the phone, it needs to ensure that they are consistent, and if they are not, either fix them or fail gracefully.

    The bottom line is that there is a lot of precedent for hardware warranties being unaffected by the actions a consumer takes with his software. Any manufacturer who causes users 4-600$ dollars worth of hardware loss via a software update would be liable. End of story.

    Believe me, if PC manufacturers could have voided your warranty for installing a different operating system (as they would be able to according to your arguments), they would have years ago.
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:13AM (#20743761) Journal
    You can hack your Tivo, and there has been some (backhanded) help from Tivo insiders to do so. You can make it do all sorts of wonderful things that Tivo did not intend, or were to litigation averse to embed in the system. Thing is, when Tivo updates the boxes you lose all your hacks. The community realized this and created a workaround that prevented automatic updates. Then they get the new software update, sifted through it, and either provided new hacks or a customized update to work with existing hacks.

    I don't own an iPhone - I have a cingy 8525. I have flashed it to a not-quite-released WM6 firmware. If I want the latest and greatest approved stuff from AT&T, I need to load their software (though it does not appear to affect my unlock status...but it could). If I don't want the updated goodness, I don't update. My DTivo is about 3-4 minor updates behind, and before the last update I was a major upgrade behind. I'm not willing to lose my TiVo hacks for a couple bells and whistles (proper DST...which could be an issue coming up here...and folders).

    If the firmware upgrades are "forced", those with hacked phones need to either code a workaround to avoid the updates or just suck it up.
  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:30AM (#20744015)
    Apple is doing this with iPhone OS updates; that is, checking to see if it is in an expected state, and if it's not, requiring the iPhone to go through a "restore".

    However, for the radio firmware, Apple is alleging that some unlock mechanisms may have irreparably damaged the hardware of the phone. If that is correct - if the iPhone hardware has been permanently damaged - then I don't think Apple is to blame. If, however, it is all software-only and reversible, then I agree with you completely, and expect Apple to try to follow exactly that path.
  • by WidescreenFreak (830043) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @10:46AM (#20744247) Homepage Journal
    Believe me, if PC manufacturers could have voided your warranty for installing a different operating system (as they would be able to according to your arguments), they would have years ago.

    They do try! Years ago, I made the mistake of buying an HP PC that came with a very new XP (pre-SP1). Before I even turned the PC on, I took the hard drive out, installed a new one, and installed a fresh copy of Windows 2000. Less than a year later (still within warranty), the optical drive died. Sure enough, HP's outsourced, "have to follow the checklist" tech people tried their best to tell me that I was not entitled to a DVD drive replacement because I didn't have the "correct" operating system installed. Anyone of a less stubborn nature than me would have given up, but I fought through several days' worth of phone calls and demands to talk to managers. At that point it became a matter of principle. But I finally got the replacement sent to me. They might not have been "voiding" the warranty by initially denying my warranty claim, but I don't see any difference between voiding and trying to not honor a warranty. Either way, you're not getting the service that you're entitled to.

    Just because we know that trying to blame software for hardware failures is ridiculous, there are even more people out there who have no clue that they're separate issues and will just give up.
  • by mstone (8523) on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @12:15PM (#20745613)
    Cool. What techniques do you use to guarantee that your code will never enter a race condition, even if someone else modifies it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @02:04PM (#20747045)
    Ha ha this whole thing is so full of lose.

    Apple suppy a phone and the firmware to run it. You can use their firmware, or the hacked firmware offered by third parties (which consists of a specific version of the apple firmware plus hacks).

    Apple don't support the third party firmware, and why should they? You didn't pay for that support, and Apple never implied that that support was on offer.

    It's as simple as that. This whole recurring topic is just control-freak software socialists trying to tell Apple what services it may or may not offer its customers, and for how much - then trying to demonise Apple by making them look like the ones trying to be controlling.

    Apple didn't mislead you and they didn't hold a gun to your head. Go away.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 25, 2007 @04:10PM (#20748707)
    It's not a question of whether they've broken the law with their software update policy. The question in my mind is... how did they slip past the antitrust laws in the first place?

    Requiring me to sign up for a specific provider's service in order to fully realize my new iPhone's potential (ie, make calls without voiding my warranty) sounds very similar to requiring me to purchase and use Brand X vacuum cleaner bags in my Brand X vacuum... or having to purchase and use gasoline only from Exxon because I purchased a Chevy vehicle. So, tell me again how their initial policy is legal?

    Settle that for me, and I'll consider worrying about the firmware updates.

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