Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked the US Copyright Office to grant an exemption, permitting third party vendors to install applications on the Apple iPhone. In simple terms, allow people to jail break their iPhones. Apple obviously opposes the exemption saying it's illegal to install any applications by means other than using Apple's own App Store.Then it got strange
Apparently, the Copyright Office asked Apple some questions and the response Apple sent back was interesting to say the least. It seems Apple is changing their tactics mid-stream, focusing on how a compromised iPhone would be detrimental to a mobile-service provider's equipment. Here's what Apple has to say about the cell tower problem:
"By hacking the Base Band Processor (BBP) software through a jail-broken phone and taking control of the BBP software, a hacker can initiate commands to the cell tower software that may skirt the carrier's rules limiting the packet size or the amount of data that can be transmitted, or avoid charges for sending data.
More pernicious forms of activity may also be enabled. For example, a local or international hacker could potentially initiate commands (such as a denial of service attack) that could crash the tower software, rendering the tower entirely inoperable to process calls or transmit data."Wrong argument
I'm no expert, so I haven't a clue as to whether that's possible or not. My contention is that Apple is making a bad argument. I don't think someone intent on doing that sort of crime would worry too much about whether jail breaking was legal or not. Shouldn't Apple be pushing the customer agreed-upon EULA as their defense? On the surface doing so seems to makes sense, but maybe Apple knows something...Exclusivity is under the microscope
I think I know what it is. The cell-tower argument is Apple's way of avoiding the ever-looming debate of whether exclusivity is legal or not. Actually, the discussion may have already started. ComputerWorld's Nancy Gohring points out in her blog post that the Department of Justice is already looking into anticompetitive practices:
"The DOJ may be looking broadly at ways that large telecom operators, including AT&T and Verizon, may be acting anticompetitively. Other issues include ways that operators restrict the kinds of services that can be offered on their networks."
From their attitude about jail breaking and third-party applications, we have a pretty good idea as to what Apple thinks about exclusivity.Final thoughts
If you ask mobile phone users, I suspect almost all would say that exclusivity agreements between mobile-service providers and phone manufacturers are more on their minds than whether jail breaking is legal or not. I submit that they are one and the same.
Michael Kassner is currently a systems manager for an international company. Together with his son, he runs MKassner Net, a small IT publication consultancy.