Criminalizing the unlocking of phones will pique developers’ interestsAnna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
As I’m sure many of you are aware, this Saturday, January 26, will be the last day you will “legally” be able to unlock your carrier locked device in the U.S. This movement stems from the decision of the Librarian of Congress, who last October made a decision on behalf of a strict anti-hacking law called DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) that will make unlocking phones on your own terms illegal. However, after making the decision, the decision was also made that consumers would have a 90-day time frame before the law officially went into effect. That 90-day frame comes to an end on Saturday.
On the surface, this sounds like bad news bears for companies like T-Mobile who have condoned unlocking phones and moving over to the otherwise iPhoneless carrier (although not for long) in exchange for monthly savings on plans. In reality, the bad news will only come to those who think such a notion will actually stop people from finding alternative ways to unlock their phone; it will only provoke developers to create new alternative methods to perform the task – it always does. It’s illegal to share music files, movies, and other copyrighted content for free. Do people still do it? All the time! It’s going to be illegal to unlock phones in a few days. Will people continue to do it? You betcha.
As I see it, freelance developers in the mobile community have usually always had a “for the people” mentality when it comes to their line of work. Their tireless work involving rooting, jailbreaking, mods, etc. prove just that - especially by offering most of these services for free. I imagine the harder it will be to unlock your device after this law goes into full effect, the more tools and methods we will see surface from developer communities to help people unlock devices themselves. As simple as it might sound to just call up your carrier and have a good ol’ chit chat about taking your business somewhere else, it’s easier said than done.
If a company is truly threatened by consumers leaving them in favor of other companies, perhaps they should then take that chance to better themselves as a business; look at why the customers are leaving and figure out what they need to do to keep their customers for the long haul. Offer something more enticing, make their plan rates competitive, maybe have a real person answer the phone every once in a while to address a problem without a million transfers. Make the customer want to stay with them because they want to, not because they have to by issuing a ball and chain with every device.
I find it intriguing how vastly laws can vary in different parts of the world. While here it is frowned upon to take your device from one carrier to another, in places like Australia it’s actually illegal to sell devices that aren’t unlocked. Yes, we might be paying a fraction of the price for a phone up front but we end up paying that back, plus more, over time with a company. Should we decide to leave before the contract has ended we still end up paying the company a hefty termination fee. In the end, is anybody but the consumer actually losing money? Is anybody actually being benefited from this law other than the carrier? I don’t think so, but hey – that’s a business for you.
While many will see this solely as a restriction on our mobile freedom (it is), I also see an opportunity for the developer community to shine a little brighter. Of course there are going to be the people that won’t consider unlocking a device because the access isn’t so easy anymore, or because they’re simply law-abiding citizens, but their plan will only carry so far. If a person is truly determined to unlock their device and switch to a different carrier, by golly they’re going to do it whether the law says it’s okay or not.
So for those of you who need to unlock a device, I suggest you get a move on before the end of Saturday hits. Otherwise it may be a long, tiresome road ahead of you for a task that’s relatively simple (not to mention legal) as of now. Or you can go ahead and wait to find an underground way of performing the unlock yourself, and dub yourself a criminal mastermind - which sounds way cooler but I am in no way condoning such actions.
Image credit: Maypalo