Got a ‘jailbreaker’ wannabe at your house?

The other day my 13-year-old mentioned in passing that he wished he could figure out how to jailbreak his iTouch so he could download free game apps (I got the feeling that messing around and figuring it out with friends was kind of a game itself). It made me smile, though, that this came up the very day the news broke that “jailbreaking” is ok now (see The Independent). What does “ok” mean? Well, it is and isn’t a big change. What happened was, the Electronic Frontier Foundation applied to the US Copyright Office for and “won three critical exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anticircumvention provisions … carving out new legal protections for consumers who modify their cell phones and artists who remix videos – people who, until now, could have been sued for their non-infringing or fair use activities.” It potentially loosens Apple’s control over what iPhone owners can download to their phones and iTouches and breaks its App Store monopoly. Apple says this development changes nothing because jailbreakers are violating the iPhone Software License Agreement they signed. But CNET explains that the effect is much less likelihood that anyone would be sued by Apple for jailbreaking (not that anyone has been, CNET says), first because it no longer violates a federal law (unless or until the exemptions were removed in three years, the next time the Copyright Office does a DCMA review), and second because even if users were breaking the agreement, Apple would have to sue, and all it “could get would be a tiny bit of money,” CNET cites an EFF spokesperson as saying.

So your kid (in effect, you) would be even less likely to be sued by Apple for jailbreaking his phone. But this isn’t all good news from a child-safety perspective because Apple’s tight control over its App Store and what users could download has been a barrier to downloading porn, malware, and other undesirable software to its phones. It may be a greater incentive to parents to check what software’s on their kids’ phones and maybe use their carriers’ parental-control tools, such as blocking software downloads (e.g., see AT&T’s SmartLimits).


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