iPhone Supposedly Gets Unlocked, AT&T Apparently Freaks Out

from the on-what-grounds dept

There were several reports last week that the operator lock on the iPhone had been broken, meaning that people might be able to use the device with service from a company other than AT&T. The first to emerge was from a New Jersey teenager, who came up with a complex method involving soldering and software; then two separate companies later said they had software-only unlocking methods. To be sure, these unlocking methods and services will only ever appeal to a small number of users, as most general consumers won’t really care, or won’t want to go to the trouble. With that in mind, it really doesn’t seem like AT&T has much at stake financially, but that apparently hasn’t stopped its lawyers from threatening one of the software providers. The company claims it got a call from a law firm representing the company, tossing around things like copyright infringement and “illegal software dissemination” in what appears to be an attempt at intimidating the company to keep them from releasing the software (particularly since the DMCA doesn’t cover phone unlocking). It’s worth reiterating that these are supposedly AT&T’s lawyers, not Apple’s — but it’s not clear what standing AT&T would have to sue, making this look like little more than a SLAPP situation. Apple’s remained quiet on the matter, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the company close the loophole or re-lock the phones with one of its software updates, since it has a financial stake in iPhone buyers activating and using their phones on AT&T thanks to its revenue-sharing deal with the operator. Of course, it could take the more enlightened view that it doesn’t want to frustrate and annoy the customers who would go to the trouble of unlocking their iPhones — but if it were going to do that, it wouldn’t have locked the device to AT&T in the first place.

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Companies: apple, at&t

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Comments on “iPhone Supposedly Gets Unlocked, AT&T Apparently Freaks Out”

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Greg (user link) says:

I thought one of the new DMCA updates dealt with the unlocking issues? It made it legal to circumvent phone locks, for the express purpose of using the device on a different network. I guess selling the tools to do that (or the unlocked phones themselves) might still be illegal, but I thought it was at least kosher to unlock the things?

Not like it does a lot of damage to AT&T anyway, since T-Mobile is the only other GSM carrier of note in the US.

The people who should really be worried are the TelCos in Europe and Asia, who are still negotiating exclusives on the iPhone in markets it hasn’t launched yet. Their users now have a choice between a hacked iPhone now, and a locked one months or years down the road, which is going to hurt them a it more than this will AT&T.

Casper says:

Re: Re:

I thought one of the new DMCA updates dealt with the unlocking issues? It made it legal to circumvent phone locks, for the express purpose of using the device on a different network. I guess selling the tools to do that (or the unlocked phones themselves) might still be illegal, but I thought it was at least kosher to unlock the things?

Same here, I could have sworn it was ruled that companies could not prevent phone unlocking for the purpose of service changes.

GoblinJuice says:

Re: Re: Re:

I remember hearing something like that, too, but I don’t think it matters. At all.

If you signed a contract that says you are allowed to use the Phone Z on Network X for Y Years and you agreed to those terms, you’re screwed. I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some sort of anti-circumvention clause in the contract, either.

Just sound random thoughts, since… er… I really don’t give a rat’s ass about the iStatusSymbolOfTheMoment. (I’m really interested in OpenMoko, tho… ko. =))

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Those contracts don’t stop you from unlocking your phones, they only force you to stay with that particular provider for the term of the contract, and I’d imagine any clause preventing you from unlocking the phone would be unconscionable, and hence void a good portion of the contract.

Besides, I’m not 100% certain that you had to sign a contract to BUY the phone. I might be wrong but I’m pretty sure that those people who bought a ton of them to sell on ebay would have been left high and dry if that were the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

That is Gay! Apple knew up front that these guys were going to unlock this phone. there is a counter culture out there waiting for anyone to try and keep them from using the items they pay for in any way they want., the reason Apple doesnt care is because it is a very small number of people who want to unlock the phones in the first place. AT&T wouldnt have them as customers anyway as they would not sign up for their service contracts no matter what. Apple is selling these phones to people (or allowing) this iphone to be sold to anyone, anywhere in the world without a contract from AT&T. basically allowing whomever wants one to buy it even though “it’s locked” to AT&T. Wake up and smell the stench of Great deal for Steve Jobs/ Horrible deal for AT&T. if you look at the WM Smartphone market all over the world you would not be suprised by this “UNLOCKING”.

Overcast says:

Perhaps tactic’s like this is why customers would want to switch in the first place?

Hmmmm, maybe just a guess.

Perhaps, just maybe – some companies should spend resources on providing a better service. Rather than to sue those who would go to great lengths to avoid their service.

Actually – that says a lot right there – more than anything… Why are some so ‘dedicated’ to using another service?

Michael Long says:

Locked to AT&T?

“… it wouldn’t have locked the device to AT&T in the first place.”

‘Course, the fact that AT&T and T-Mobile don’t share all of the same GSM bands has little to do with it. Or that Verizon and Sprint use CDMA, which means the iPhone can’t be used there either. Which means that a software lock is actually a bit superfluous, since from a hardware standpoint the phone can’t be used effectively with anyone else in the US.

And has it been approved for sale in the EU? Passed their version of the FCC?

Anonymous Coward says:

DMCA phone unlocking exception states that it is legal to unlock your phone for the purpose of using the device on a different network. However, you cannot unlock phones for the purpose of making profit. This is why TracPhone continues to sue companies that unlock their phones to sell overseas. Apparently, unlocking software would also be a violation of the DMCA if it circumventing the copyrighted firmware locks for profit.

In any case, iPhonesimfree.com was the first to report and actually demonstrate/prove that they have a working software only solution. They have made no mention of being called by Apple or AT&T lawyers. Uniquephones has never proven to have a working method of unlocking the iPhone, they were not the first to report to have a software only unlock, and yet they receive the call from lawyers. I don’t buy it. I call BS on Uniquephones.

hmm says:


I second the “I don’t give a damn” for the Utool…
I have NEVER gotten good service from Att…or Sprint for that matter. As far as using a hacked Utool in Europe…yes they work. legal?…no. But who cares?
If you really want to play with toys a little thing like the law won’t stop you.
Hence the German and Dutch hackers having so much fun

Pete (profile) says:

Screw the iPhone. At the risk of starting a flame war, it is just another overpriced box from apple. Just a rehash of current technology mixed into one unit, hyped, and sold as a “lifestyle” device while not bringing anything really new to the table.
I second the interest in the OpenMoko project. Essentially the same as an iphone but, get this, totally open source and 200 bucks cheaper. I never understood the desire of people to pay obsene amounts of money for a name.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Termination Fees

Before we comment that this is terrible for AT&T, let’s not forget about their early terminatino fees (ETF). Not only is the iphone locked, but customers subscribe to an AT&T contract with ETFs. I’m not sure if all these hackers are getting out of that obligation or not. If they are, that IS terrible for AT&T, but if they are not, then AT&T still gets either the monthly fees, or the termination fees.

A nice $200 check from people who *don’t even want to be your customer* isn’t such a bad business.

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