posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 30th Aug 2010 22:47 UTC
IconSince interesting news that I'm actually knowledgeable about is still a little hard to come by, I have to work a little harder. This is something interesting to discuss: John Gruber, rather famous Apple blogger, is now arguing that Apple is in fact not fighting the jailbreaking community. Wait, what?

That was my response. After all these years, how can you claim - with a straight face - that Apple is not fighting the jailbreaking community? Well, you can make this claim if you focus on one particular aspect of this supposed fight against jailbreakers; namely, the aspect which doesn't have to have anything to do with jailbreaking.

Jailbreaking works by finding a vulnerability in the iOS, and gaining root access to the operating system via that vulnerability. Once you have root access, you can use the iOS to its fullest potential, instead of the more limited potential Apple approves its users to use. Jailbreaking provides little to no benefit to ordinary, non-geek users (I advise my non-geek friends not to jailbreak), but for a geek like me with Android-envy, it's a godsend.

Back to John Gruber. A few days ago, Colin Gibbs published an article in which he argues that Apple should cease its fight against the jailbreaking community. He also states that more or less allowing jailbreaking - implicitly - could help sell iPhones. "Apple can simply say, 'We don't support that garbage', maintain its policy that jailbreaking automatically voids warranties and remain unsoiled in the public eye," he argues.

Gruber took offence to this one, claiming that Apple doesn't fight the jailbreak community at all. "Apple isn't 'fighting' jailbreaking," he argues, "They simply don't support it. iOS 4.0.2 fixed a serious security vulnerability. By arguing that Apple shouldn't have bothered doing so, Gibbs is implicitly arguing that Apple shouldn’t fix security vulnerabilities. It's that simple."

This is the one aspect I mentioned earlier. Indeed, most of Apple's apparent fight against jailbreaking revolves around fixing the security vulnerabilities that jailbreakers use to gain root access to their phones. As such, one could argue, as Gruber does, that Apple is not fighting jailbreaking - it is merely fixing security vulnerabilities.

And I have a unicorn.

Of course Apple is fighting jailbreaking. While the fixing of security vulnerabilities that allow jailbreaking isn't proof enough (or at all), there's this other pesky affair in which Apple pretty much flat-out admitted - for all the world to see - that it takes jailbreaking very seriously, and that it intends to fight the practice every step along the way.

Let's back up for a second. Every three years, the US Copyright Office accepts requests for exemptions to the DMCA, the US law which, among other things, makes it illegal to circumvent DRM schemes and copyright protection mechanisms. In 2008, the Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted a request to have jailbreaking added to the list of exemptions. This request covered all mobile phones - not just Apple's.

After requests are sent in and made public, comments can be sent in. Only one mobile phone maker bothered to counter the Electronic Frontier Foundation's exemption request: Apple. And they countered hard, with an infamous FUD-attack involving crashing transmission towers and several "think of the children"-arguments.

Apple fought hard to maintain jailbreaking as an illegal activity, and now Gruber is seriously arguing that all this was, well, just a joke? Didn't happen? A figment of our collective imagination? I guess we're seeing revisionist history in the making here. Fascinating.

As we now know, Apple lost. The Copyright Office sided with the EFF; jailbreaking is considered fair use for US residents. This is great news. Of course, your warranty should void when you jailbreak your phone; this is only natural. However, Apple's documented fight to keep jailbreaking illegal shows - quite clearly - that the company takes it seriously, and is actively fighting the practice.

Arguing otherwise is either ignorant, or deliberately misleading.

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