posted by Thom Holwerda on Wed 29th Jul 2009 17:10 UTC
IconThe discussion around whether or not jailbreaking iPhones should be exempt from the DMCA has just reached a level of ridiculousness that words can't really describe any longer. As some of you might know, Apple and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are in a tussle with one another over whether or not the US Copyright Office should put an exemption in the DMCA allowing the jailbreaking of iPhones. Apple's reasoning for why no exemption should be made is rather... Over-the-top.

Every three years, the US Copyright Office holds hearings about possible exemptions to the DMCA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a request to have jailbreaking of iPhones added as an exemption, and Apple has been fighting that request ever since, stating it constitutes a breach of copyright. Apple's most recent filing says that jailbreaking of iPhones could lead to crashing transmission towers - among other things.

According to Apple's filing, people can access the iPhone's baseband processor (BBP) on jailbroken iPhones. This chip controls the phone's connection to the operator's network. By hacking the BBP, you can change the phone's exclusive chip identification (ECID), which in turn can be used for malicious purposes. "With access to the BBP via jailbreaking, hackers may be able to change the ECID, which in turn can enable phone calls to be made anonymously (this would be desirable to drug dealers, for example) or charges for the calls to be avoided," Apple said. It is interesting to note that operators generally rely on SIM cards for identification purposes.

In addition, Apple adds that by giving several jailbroken iPhones the same ECID, you can cause a transmission tower to malfunction, circumvent data limits, or even crash the tower through denial-of-service attacks. "In short, taking control of the BPP software would be much the equivalent of getting inside the firewall of a corporate computer -- to potentially catastrophic result," Apple said.

In the filing, Apple neatly summarises its objections to the request by the EFF to allow jailbreaking:

  • Crashes & instability
  • Malfunctioning & safety
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Exposing children to age-inappropriate content
  • Viruses & malware
  • Inability to update software
  • Cellular network impact
  • Piracy of developers' applications
  • Instability of developers' applications
  • Increased support burden
  • Developer relationships
  • The Apple/iPhone brand
  • Limitation on ability to innovate

I have to hand it to Apple - they know how to push all the right buttons. Of course, the entire list is a prime example of 'fear, uncertainty, and doubt'. There are countless mobile platforms out there that are not restricted in the way the iPhone platform is - S60, Android, webOS, Windows Mobile, Blackberry - and none of them seem to be really posing any problems to mobile operators.

It's quite clear that all Apple's interested in is making sure the platform stays as closed and controlled as possible, as to ensure a steady flow of income to the company - jailbreaking is done because people want control over the phone they bought, and what applications they'll run on it. There's nothing wrong with Apple wanting to protect its interests, but it's sad that it has to resort to such FUD to get there.

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