Apple jailbreaking verdict: what happens next?

As we reported earlier this week, a revised interpretation of copyright laws means it is now legal to jailbreak an iPhone: that is, to modify it so it can run any software, including apps not approved by Apple. But the real question is what difference it will make.

From a legal standpoint, the answer appears to be “not much”. Let’s be honest: jailbreaking may previously have been assumed to be illegal, but it wasn’t a law that anyone was going to enforce. For Apple to have tried to get convictions over jailbreaking would have been a public relations nightmare: regardless of the letter of the law, society generally takes the view that once a manufacturer gets paid for a device (whether the customer pays outright or through a carrier subsidy), the owner should be able to do what they like with it as long as it isn’t directly cheating anyone of any money.

From a practical standpoint, Apple’s position isn’t changing. The company has reiterated that it advises against jailbreaking and that doing so automatically voids the warranty. That may seem harsh, but is probably fair: while most people with the technical savvy to jailbreak a phone are smart enough to take precautions, it does put security out of Apple’s control, so it’s going to be difficult to conclusively blame them if things go wrong.

What remains to be seen is whether Apple will continue taking steps to deter jailbreaking. For example, it now has to decide whether to continue the cat-and-mouse game of each software update undoing the most common methods of jailbreaking the phone. That raises some intriguing legal questions now that jailbreaking has been declared legitimate. Does Apple have the right to undo a legal action performed by a handset owner? And what, if any, legal obligation does Apple have to make software updates available to all customers: are people who don’t want their jailbreaking undone still entitled to the latest operating system, or are updates simply a discretionary bonus?

The people with the most to gain from the ruling appear to be the major manufacturers of unapproved apps which only work on jailbroken phones. There’s a theory they’ll now hit the jackpot with new customers piling in. I’m not convinced by that though: to me the real barriers to jailbreaking have always been the technical knowledge required and a fear of screwing up a handset, not the risk of facing prosecution. For the vast majority of iPhone owners, the 200,000+ officially-approved apps is plenty to be going on with.

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4 Responses to Apple jailbreaking verdict: what happens next?

  1. I am no Apple lover, but it does make sense that an OTA OS update will reset jailbroken phones. Software programming ethics demands that a programmer provide properly functioning software. This includes making sure the software does not destroy the hardware without user consent. If the best way to do this is to ensure that every update resets the phone a known working setting, then as long as the EULA states this policy, I see no problem with it. On the other hand, if the updates are "understood" to undo user-modifications, I'd have a problem with it, and it would be "understood" that this is not what I paid for and I would demand my money back.

  2. I am no Apple lover, but it does make sense that an OTA OS update will reset jailbroken phones. Software programming ethics demands that a programmer provide properly functioning software. This includes making sure the software does not destroy the hardware without user consent. If the best way to do this is to ensure that every update resets the phone a known working setting, then as long as the EULA states this policy, I see no problem with it. On the other hand, if the updates are “understood” to undo user-modifications, I’d have a problem with it, and it would be “understood” that this is not what I paid for and I would demand my money back.

  3. Having read the entire text of the decision, the answer to your question is pretty obvious: Yes, Apple has the right to undo the legal jailbreak you put on your phone. They aren't reaching into your equipment without your permission – the undo comes in the form of a new software revision which you, as a jailbreaker, know will almost certainly re-jail your phone. If you choose install it anyway, you can't really complain about it.

    Remember that jailbreaking is the act of exploiting a security hole in the software, and using it in ways it was not intended to be used (pirating paid apps, for example).

    There's nothing in the ruling that would suggest otherwise, and it's unlikely any law is ever going to make it illegal for a software company to patch security flaws when it finds them, regardless of how many nerds it inconveniences. It would basically be saying "You no longer have the right to update the software you invented, because it might close a security hole needed by someone who's using your software in an unintended way". Not gonna fly.

    Will Apple keep chasing the JB crowd? Probably. I believe their position was always one of principal, not so much legality. Their principals haven't changed. Plus, every iOS version gets harder to JB, and closing the holes is something Apple clearly has the resources to continue doing in the course of it's normal software evolution.

    PS: I do wish everyone would stop couching this as an APPLE issue. NO manufacturer likes hackers messing with their OS; all them take steps to some degree or another to prevent it and to close exploits when they're found. All of them void the warranty if you hack the phone (I just bricked an HTC Touch Pro 2 on Verizon. It wasn't covered.).

    This is an industry position, not something Apple dreamed up.

  4. Having read the entire text of the decision, the answer to your question is pretty obvious: Yes, Apple has the right to undo the legal jailbreak you put on your phone. They aren’t reaching into your equipment without your permission – the undo comes in the form of a new software revision which you, as a jailbreaker, know will almost certainly re-jail your phone. If you choose install it anyway, you can’t really complain about it.

    Remember that jailbreaking is the act of exploiting a security hole in the software, and using it in ways it was not intended to be used (pirating paid apps, for example).

    There’s nothing in the ruling that would suggest otherwise, and it’s unlikely any law is ever going to make it illegal for a software company to patch security flaws when it finds them, regardless of how many nerds it inconveniences. It would basically be saying “You no longer have the right to update the software you invented, because it might close a security hole needed by someone who’s using your software in an unintended way”. Not gonna fly.

    Will Apple keep chasing the JB crowd? Probably. I believe their position was always one of principal, not so much legality. Their principals haven’t changed. Plus, every iOS version gets harder to JB, and closing the holes is something Apple clearly has the resources to continue doing in the course of it’s normal software evolution.

    PS: I do wish everyone would stop couching this as an APPLE issue. NO manufacturer likes hackers messing with their OS; all them take steps to some degree or another to prevent it and to close exploits when they’re found. All of them void the warranty if you hack the phone (I just bricked an HTC Touch Pro 2 on Verizon. It wasn’t covered.).

    This is an industry position, not something Apple dreamed up.

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