Why The Unlocking Phones Debate Is Important

The White House and the FCC have recently come out in favor of allowing consumers to unlock their phones. That is a really good thing. Let's hope that the rest of the regulators in this country join them in this stance.

I would go even further. I would assert that rooting, jailbreaking, and other actions that users take to gain total control of their device should be entirely legal in this country.

Here is why. We need to defend the concept of general purpose computing. General purpose computing is the idea that the owner of the computer can get access to the base computing functions on the device. Rewind to the time of the homebrew computer club. Hackers and coders were building their own computing devices and putting software on them and making what became personal computers. Personal computers have evolved a lot since then, most recently ending up in our pockets and purses, but they remain personal to the core.

In recent years we have seen more and more attempts to separate us from the core computing functions on our personal computing devices. The iPhone is stock full of them and that is the fundamental reason I will never use one. The same is true of the iPad. So iOS users jailbreak their phones. The evasion iPhone jailbreak is on 23 million phones now.

Android phones and tablets are better, but the carriers who sell these Android devices play Apple's game pretty well themselves. Getting a Nexus with a clean build of Android what I do. Others cleanse their phones with Cyanogen or other mods.  All of this activity shows that many of us want to control our devices, configure them the way we want, and put the software on them that we want to put on them.

It feels to me and other industry observers I talk to that we are moving away from this notion of general purpose computing to some other place where we use devices that are controlled by others and that we can't truly make our own. This is a dangerous trend in the technology world and one we need to resist.

I feel a growing divide between the users, who are rooting, unlocking, and jailbreaking in record numbers, and the device makers and marketers who are tightening up the screws on their devices ever tighter. I stand with the users in this fight and unlock, root, and jailbreak as much as I can. You should too. And our governement should make this activity legal so that we do not face any adverse consequences from this behavior.