Motorola Does Openness Wrong; Bricks Your Droid X If You Tamper

from the that's-not-open dept

Part of the key selling point of the whole concept of Android-based smartphones was that they were open to tinkering. Apparently, Motorola thinks somewhat differently about that. paperbag was the first of a whole bunch of you to point to variations on the story that Motorola has put a thing called “eFuse” on the Droid X which will effectively brick your phone if you try to mess with the software.

If you look around, a lot of people who said they would originally buy a Droid X are saying they won’t do it now, just on principle. Bricking a phone that someone bought, just because they want to change the software themselves is pretty abhorrent. Motorola’s response to the concerns isn’t winning over many people either. They flat-out say that if you don’t like it, you should buy another phone:

We understand there is a community of developers interested in going beyond Android application development and experimenting with Android system development and re-flashing phones. For these developers, we highly recommend obtaining either a Google ADP1 developer phone or a Nexus One, both of which are intended for these purposes. At this time, Motorola Android-based handsets are intended for use by consumers and Android application developers, and we have currently chosen not to go into the business of providing fully unlocked developer phones.

The use of open source software, such as the Linux kernel or the Android platform, in a consumer device does not require the handset running such software to be open for re-flashing. We comply with the licenses, including GPLv2, for each of the open source packages in our handsets. We post appropriate notices as part of the legal information on the handset and post source code, where required, at Securing the software on our handsets, thereby preventing a non-Motorola ROM image from being loaded, has been our common practice for many years. This practice is driven by a number of different business factors. When we do deviate from our normal practice, such as we did with the DROID, there is a specific business reason for doing so. We understand this can result in some confusion, and apologize for any frustration.

I think they’re missing the point. The fact is most consumers won’t tinker with the underlying software of their phone, but if they do want to, they should be allowed to do so without having Motorola destroy the device.

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Comments on “Motorola Does Openness Wrong; Bricks Your Droid X If You Tamper”

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william (profile) says:

Re: Re:

well, there IS a reason why Motorola is sinking into obscurity.

Look, you can say “Go buy another phone” if you are the market leader right now and you can’t stock enough products (aka Apple and their iPhone4 with problems). If you’re the underdog right now, you do whatever you could to sell one more unit.

Motorola is still living in their fantasy world where their one-hit-wonder Razr is making them a company of significance… years ago.

Time for a rude awakening.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“as Motorola willl always provide the latest stable version of Android.”

Will they? Unless I’m mistaken, Android 2.2 has been released, and yet my Moto Droid tells me there are no updates available, despite the fact that it’s running 2.1. I really wouldn’t care all that much, except the ScummVM app I’ve been desperately trying to run won’t on 2.1….

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Yo Dark Helmet!

CM6 is great, and what I’m running at the moment. Also, Simply Stunning is good, and I hear Bugless Beast is nice, but that’s secondhand knowledge.

I just rooted a coworker’s Droid Incredible, and lemme tell ya, it’s about 300 times easier than when I rooted my Droid. Litterally, I just clicked a button and waited 2 minutes.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Yo Dark Helmet!


Can’t say what the functionality is exactly, but I can vouch for the Cyanogen camp. It’s probably the most respected ROM cooking outfit in existence.

Cut to a brief explanation, they take the stock ROM of a good phone, strip out any bloatware or carrier-specific crap apps, tweak the default settings for better performance (most OEM defaults emphasize battery life), and then add a few useful feature and apps like tethering, battery meters, terminal consoles, etc. Among geeks, these ROMs are widely regarded as far better than stock OEM or carrier ROMs.

From there, the individual is free to add and remove their own customizations – unlike OEM or carrier ROMs, which prevent you from removing apps you might not want, like ‘VZW Music store’ or ‘Get Ringtones’.

The downside is you have to be a geek to install the ROM, and then you are off the mainstream if you have a support issue. You can’t walk into a T-mo store if you have a Cyanogen ROM and ask “how do I move apps to the SD card?”

Typically, however, the first people to get Android updates are Nexus One owners, followed by cooked ROM users, followed by OEM-branded purchasers, followed by people who bought carrier-subsidized phones. The majority fall into the last camp, which often NEVER see the OS updates at all.

In this case, Motorola are just being deliberate jerks to the very people who want to buy their excellent hardware and take it to the next level. They probably have some business motive – like they don’t want the link to their ringtone store deleted – and as such put in the poison pill. Total revenue gain = 0 additional ringtones sold. Total revenue lost = a bunch of early adopters, evangelists, phone lovers, and geeks that you just sent over to Nexus One…and any friends and family that they influence.

Bad call Moto. Which reminds me, I told a friend to buy a Droid X this weekend, and I’m gonna call him right now and tell him to go with the Incredible from HTC instead.

Scote (profile) says:

Consumer **hardware** shouldn't have a self-destruct switch.

I think Motorola is **really** missing the point. The things that I purchase, that I own, from Motorola should not have a deliberately designed hardware self-destruct mechanism that permanently destroys the hardware. That is clearly a design defect that has no benefit to the consumer and plenty of down side.

What other products would people accept hardware self-destruct mechanisms that prevent people from working on them or repairing them? Your car? Your lawnmower? Your toaster? Your Microwave? Your house? Your home computer? I’d say none. And I’d say neither should the phone I buy and ***own***.

Tank_Szuba (profile) says:

Re: Consumer **hardware** shouldn't have a self-destruct switch.

I completely agree and having thought about this all day i cannot understand from a business perspective how this could really help very much. I recently spoke to a Verizon rep who is also a “Modder” and he explained that; at the store level, a phone with a non-oem rom is impossible to detect. Only when it finally gets to Moto can they determine that. I am sure this costs Moto some money. It cannot possibly be thta much though that they would take such a departure from the previous actions regardless of their stance of “. Securing the software on our handsets, thereby preventing a non-Motorola ROM image from being loaded, has been our common practice for many years”. This is not how it is supposed to be. I sort of sympathetic to them though and te real world solution should be to give store level personell the ability to detect a phone bricked either via an attempt to subvert the current ROM or from something else. I agree with most everyone else that this could make the iPhone antenna fiasco seem like a minor PR Stumble. On another note though i am curious about the actual legality of including a self destruct device in a piece of consumer electronics or anything for that matter. If you are reading this please reply with where one could research such legality/illegality.

Robert A. Rosenberg (profile) says:

Re: Consumer **hardware** shouldn't have a self-destruct switch.

“What other products would people accept hardware self-destruct mechanisms”

The only devices that I can think of where this is standard equipment were the one-time-play briefing devices on the Mission Impossible TV Show (Where the briefing ended “This Device will Self Destruct in 10 Seconds” – Poof).

Hephaestus (profile) says:

“The normal process of using an sbf file to upgrade has also been made more difficult as they have been tagged and if not properly applied or not device/build/increment specefic then they will trip the eFuse.”

It seems like a huge security flaw. If someone were to hack into verizon or MOT change a couple bytes on an sbf file on their upgrade servers. Bam a couple million peolpe with bricked phones. Or the unintentional could occur, like a single IBM employee taking out a world bank for seven hours last week.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Good to know

Good to know when I go looking for an android phone here in a couple months to avoid Motorola.

Securing the software on our handsets, thereby preventing a non-Motorola ROM image from being loaded, has been our common practice for many years.

Correct me if I am wrong here, but wasn’t the Motorola RAZR one of the easiest to modify phones ever?

Also, is it possible that the eFuse and its functions are being overrated just because its news right now?
I cannot say that I am a regular at droid-life so I am not going to say its a great source of information.

Along the lines of whether the eFuse is a great stopper or not, claiming that it is will only make some hackers very determined to break it. I don’t doubt at all that with time it will be broken.

Spectere (profile) says:

Re: Good to know

Yeah, the RAZR series (and the V series in general) was pretty easy to hack the crap out of. I heavily modified my imported V620 when I still had it. A bit of creative file management (in addition to a data cable and a piece of free software) was the only way to get any decent mileage out of the whopping 5MB of internal memory on those older devices. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as deleting those lame “protected” ringtones from your device to make room for your own. 🙂

There are also dozens of free applications that allowed you to change OEM settings, such as the text on the outer display, as well as various other internal settings that are normally untouchable. If you’re feeling spunky you could also flash the ROM to a stock Motorola one if you wanted to remove all carrier branding without a whole lot of effort.

Long story short, yes, the representative that said that is full of shit.

Jeremy7600 (profile) says:

Re: Good to know

I owned a v360 and used a modded ROM onthat, external display showed a custom gif, etc etc etc.

I also owned a v3t RAZR and had a modded ROM on that, too. I did alot more with those two phones than you were ever supposed to. Motorola didn’t make it hard at all, at least, not after all the russian coders had their time with it. (It seemed like all the mods came from Russia for the RAZR when I was using it.)

This shit is dumb. I won’t be heading to Verizon for a Droid X until this has (and it WILL) been eliminated or completely bypassed by modders, coders and hackers.

Michael Kohne says:

They aren't thinking ahead...or looking at the past

Any company that puts this kind of self-destruct in a device is asking for trouble. There’s no such thing as developers who don’t make mistakes (I do software for a living, and I’ve worked with a LOT of people over the years, so I KNOW this in a way that many people do not).

Somebody is going to have their phone trip it’s eFuse for no reason at all, and they are going to get very, very angry. And then Moto is going to have a PR problem and a lawsuit problem, and for what? So that the 1/10 of 1% of their buyers who might have fooled with the software otherwise can’t do so?

Someone on Moto’s board should be asking the Droid X product guys why this is worth risking all that.

JD says:


You’ve got to remember, you’re not just buying a phone, you’re buying a piece of hardware and a service that goes along with it. This hardware needs to be built in a way that allows the service to be used legitimately. For example, it would be wrong for Moto to build a phone that allowed you to make free calls or browse the web for free. By allowing you to break the phone, they are potentially opening the door for you to use services that they would otherwise charge for. In this case, a WiFi HotSpot is the big one that comes to mind.

You can argue that you should be able to make your phone act as a free WiFi HotSpot for free. But you can’t argue that they have to make it easy for you to do that.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Why...

They don’t have to make it easy, but they don’t have to make it ‘impossible’ (at least until some hackers see this as a tempting target).

There is no more requirement for a phone to be used ‘legitimately’ than ‘legally’. Of course, no-one wants people hacking the SERVICE, but what we are talking about is legal tinkering with the actual phone, not hacking into the network or something like that. So there is no more requirement for Motorola to ‘brick’ a phone than to have Ford ‘brick’ a car for being used in a robbery – or going over a speed limit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why...

For example, it would be wrong for Moto to build a phone that allowed you to make free calls or browse the web for free.

Strawman alert! That’s not what’s being discussed. Google allows you to modify the Nexus 1, but that doesn’t let you “make free calls or browse the web for free”. Unless, that is, you’re talking about VOIP and WiFi, which wouldn’t be “wrong” at all.

You can argue that you should be able to make your phone act as a free WiFi HotSpot for free.

This really sounds like someone working for AT&T because that argument sounds about as lame as AT&T’s claim that Google is using AT&T’s network “for free”. It’s a bunch of bull.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Why...

JD claimed:

By allowing you to break the phone, they are potentially opening the door for you to use services that they would otherwise charge for.

You mean, like the way that, because I’m allowed to run anything I like on my PC, I can access sites that offer information for free, and skip those that want to charge for it?

Is this wrong in one case, but not the other?

Steve-o says:

Droid/Milestone already have something like this in place

This is similar to the milestone, difficult but not impossible.

Also, for the person saying that they get no update with their 2.1 device but 2.2 has been released: 2.2 has only been released to developers and carriers, meaning they have to make sure it works on their handsets as they want it to (adding Sense UI, or MotoBlur, other branded or contractually prepackaged apps), then they release it to the consumers. Its pretty standard stuff in the phone business (hardware to service provider, then service provider to consumer). Obviously the Nexus one is excluded since it is sold directly from Google, and they can bypass the service provider.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Droid/Milestone already have something like this in place

Also, for the person saying that they get no update with their 2.1 device but 2.2 has been released: 2.2 has only been released to developers and carriers…

I think that was the point. Although it’s been released to the Motoroala and the Carriers, they have yet to release the update to their users. This is even though it was available to the carriers for testing before it was released, so they should have had it ready to go by the time it was released or shortly thereafter. But, I suppose they didn’t see any real reason to. I mean, why should they? You already bought the phone and signed the contract.

Nick (profile) says:


“When we do deviate from our normal practice, such as we did with the DROID, there is a specific business reason for doing so.”

Oh! You mean that reason why people started saying the droid was better then the iPhone? The reason why people started looking at Motorola like they might become a contender again? That reason?

If your normal practice is losing market share, I’d think some deviation would be welcome.

dukapaducah says:

Catch 22

Think about it. Certain software on the phone is critical to allowing it to function as a phone and meet FCC regulations, safety-related emissions regulations, etc. Mess with that and get it wrong and it may not BE a phone anymore. Worse yet, it may keep phones around it from working properly or maybe even put the user at risk (of greater than allowed radio frequency exposure). When that happens, who is responsible? Clearly the owner. But who gets stuck with the problem?? The owner.. maybe. The service provider.. maybe. Motorola.. probably. The message is clear. Write applications and load them to your heart’s content, but observe the “keep out” signs. Would you want to share the road with someone who hacks the engine/emission controls or ABS system on their car??

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Catch 22

1 -Stupid reasoning. If don’t want to allow access to critical functions, just block them altogether. But then motorola couldn’t claim that their system is open, could they?

2- I pretty much doubt that you could make to phone emit more powerful radiation by tweaking the software.

3- What, you’ve never seen modded cars where you live? You know, cars: Those carriages without horses that go like “vroom”. Modded cars have existed since forever (see hotrods).

corkorado says:

misleading article

Not sure if you realized this but the message from Motorola you linked to is dated 2-12-2010 and in response to the Milestone being locked in Europe. There may be similarities to a situation with the DroidX but this is clearly not Motorola’s response to the eFuse controversy started by the mobilecrunch article.

In fact, this report says several previous phones have used this same technology but it hasn’t been put into use.

I’m not a fan of locking down hardware – I don’t really see the point – but lets wait until there are actual reports of phones being bricked before sounding the alarm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: misleading article

Ridiculous, why should Mike wait until some innocent consumers are hosed before letting them know of the risk? I will never buy a Motorola phone because of this RISK, not because of whether or not it has happened. They have built in a deliberate risk to me as a consumer, and I don’t like it. Apple may not like letting people jailbreak, and they do take deliberate actions to fix the new hardware to prevent it, but they are not bricking iphones that are jailbroken even though they could be. You can always restore your iphone to original firmware and it works just fine. This is an entirely different thing Moto is doing, and I will take my money elsewhere to avoid the RISK.

CN says:

Defective by design.

I’ve never tried to make changes, but being told I can’t leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Trust goes out the window too… I wouldn’t buy a different model from them, as they may hide something like this. I’ll never be their customer.

More time needs to be spent making things work, not spent making things *not* work.

Jeff Rivett (profile) says:

They really don't get it

This ridiculous ‘feature’ with the cutesy name (I can just imagine the marketing meeting where they dreamed up that one) sends a message to potential (and actual) customers: “We think you’re a criminal.” They’re going to lose a lot more customers than the hobbyists. The only company that can get away with this sort of crap is Apple, and that’s only because the same idiots keep buying Apple’s stuff and will never be swayed.

jsf (profile) says:

Just Doing What Their Customer Wants

They are doing exactly what their customer wants the product to do. The thing that most people don’t realize is that the end user of cell phones is NOT the phone manufacturers customer in the US. The cell phone providers are their customers, and in this case I would bet that Verizon asked for this feature to be enabled and Motorola was glad to do it.

JMallal says:

No longer a customer

I will not be buying the Droid X, I couldn’t wait until it came out, I am switching to verizon from tmobile soon, and was hoping to switch this month and get a Droid X. I think I will no longer purchase any Motorola products because of this. I don’t need a brick because I wanted to do something that should be able to happen with the hardware.

docfixit says:

Let’s just say the buck doesn’t stop there. Motorola could be facing legal issues with the fact there phone has forced software services running in the back ground that intentionally work the phone harder than a consumer should need real touchie subject that will be pursued by all means. It is like buy a car that can run a 150mph and the dealer forcing it to run that fast. Might be recall time for x time will tell not to mention you have to request a manual for the device go figure.

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