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.

#mobile#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Julien

    Generally I still don’t understand on what grounds I couldn’t do anything with something I own.

    1. fredwilson


      1. Jon Winebrenner

        I fully agree with you, Fred, if you have bought the product outright. If you subsidize it, then you don’t get to crack it.There’s a difference between base level locking and carrier specific locking. It is possible for software/hardware to cause serious havoc on a network. It is why there are PTCRB licensing, etc.

    2. William Mougayar

      Their position is to not support you or void the warranty if you unlock without authorization. So let’s ask on what grounds that is based as well.

      1. Julien

        I think it’s actually fait that if I alter the hardware (in any way), I cannot ask for the warranty to be applied… but I still don’t understand how affecting software should do anything but risk my ability to get the data stored.

        1. Tommy Chen

          If you bought your phone under contract, you don’t technically “own” it until your contract is up. You can buy a phone at full list price and you can do whatever you want with it (unlock, jailbreak, etc.). Altering the software could affect hardware (negatively affecting memory, processor or degrading battery), but if you know what you are doing these, these are not big concerns.

    3. aegeus

      Have a look at the PS3 license… you legally don’t own the hardware, Sony does. You merely license it. I don’t think it would hold water in any court but they have used it to remotely control devices running software they did not approve of.

      1. Julien

        Doesn’t make it less bogus ๐Ÿ™‚ Also, since it’s not subscription/rent based, I think it is fair to say that it should be considered as an aquisition (ie something I own).

      2. ShanaC

        that’s bizarre. Are they in charge of it when you are done with it? or when they are?I’m surprised no one tries suing around these things

    4. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Exactly. To me this is a straight forward consumer issue. I sorely resent buying something and then not OWNING it!

      1. ErikSchwartz

        How about if you pay for 20% of it and some other entity pays for the rest. Are you as possessive then? Because when you pay $100 for a smartphone VZW or ATT is paying the other $400. Why should they not get a say?Just playing devils advocate here.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          That’s the perception out there, all right. But I just did the math this week, as I am shopping for a new mobile service provider. Even if I pay $800 up front for my phone, I’ll still pay $1000 less over 2 years with a no-contract service than with any of the contract services.So really, we’re just taking out mortgages on our devices and paying a heavy interest rate.

          1. Tommy Chen

            Yes, contract mobile service plans in the US are a huge rip off but the market is conditioned to pay less upfront for the device and have it subsidized by paying a boat load on monthly service fees. Many smaller carriers have tried to break this model, but no one is coming on board. I hope T-Mobile will have better luck when they role out their new contract-free strategy some time this year.

          2. PhilipSugar

            Walmart sells unlocked iPhones and I wouldn’t call them small.

          3. Tommy Chen

            Walmart is a retailer, not a mobile service provider. They sell unlock iPhones for use mostly on the Straight Talk network (Tracfone), which is small. The Apple store also sells unlock iPhones too, but it garners very little sales in the US.

          4. PhilipSugar

            Walmart becomes a player in any market they enter: Banking, mobile service provider, etc

          5. Kirsten Lambertsen

            This is just my gut instinct, but I think that’s changing. I’m not much of an early adopter when it comes to gadgets and their services, and I am fed up with contracts. I am with Virgin Mobile monthly now, and am about to switch, probably to Red Pocket.I can buy a really decent unlocked smart phone for ~$200-300. Totally worth it. Prices on devices will only come down. This is a market that will change, I believe.

          6. ShanaC

            so why are we not calling this a spade a spade and referring the carriers in for crazy interest rates

          7. Kirsten Lambertsen

            ya, maybe the point is that it is not ok to disguise interest fees as something else.But, I probably side with buyer beware here in terms of contracts. We can’t legislate the suckiness out of all contracts or consumer products.I just don’t think it’s ok to make it a crime to breach a contract – the contract, itself, has remedies for breach, and those remedies can be enforced by a court when/where necessary.What we all need to do is say, “Friends don’t let friends buy cell service contracts.” Spread the word.

          8. mcbeese

            Perhaps. That might be the right approach โ€“ approach this as a predatory pricing/loan issue.

          9. mcbeese

            Correct, and it’s choice. We don’t have to.

        2. TBodily

          If the carriers were actually making this case I might have a teensy bit more sympathy. As it stands the laws they’ve pushed through apply even if I pay full price for my phone, at least to my knowledge.

          1. Tommy Chen

            if you buy your phone at full list, the carriers will easily unlock your phone for you. I’ve done it numerous times at Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile (don’t know about Sprint).

          2. mcbeese

            No, that is incorrect. You can pay full price for an unlocked phone.

          3. TBodily

            Yeah, read up on the topic and are correct, thanks for keeping me honest ๐Ÿ˜‰

        3. ShanaC

          sure, it is called a house (20% down). I keep wondering why that connection is not being made

          1. ErikSchwartz

            Try not carrying homeowners insurance on that house you only own 20% of. Under your argument since it is your house you should not need to have insurance. But you do. They are protecting their investment. It is the same with the carriers.

      2. Dave Pinsen

        You must hate property taxes – it’s like you keep paying rent on a place after you own it free and clear.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          My property taxes are wicked high, but I know (basically) what I get in return for them. I’m a willing participant in that contract. We actually get good services from our local govt where I live.

    5. Richard

      The gov places all types of restrictions on us! Health insurance, Lightbulbs, Cars. We live in a (not) brave new world.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Like your parents did when you were their dependent. To the extent that we vote to make ourselves dependent on government — for assistance with food, health care, shelter, education, travel safety, etc. (assistance which makes all those things more expensive, which in turn makes us more dependent) — we give up some of our freedom.

    6. ShanaC

      you can’t burn down your house for insurance money/getting out of your mortgage – pretty similar idea from the carriers position

    7. mcbeese

      Your $199 is just a down payment. You don’t own it until the end of your contract, at which point the Carriers will unlock it.

  2. Fernando Gutierrez

    Also related with limiting our rights over things we own are the restrictions on transmiting digital goods we have bought. Apple does it with iTunes, Amazon does it with Kindle books… The fact that these goods don’t have physical entity should not be a reason to accept weaker property rights.

    1. fredwilson


    2. Aviah Laor

      Amazon has no technical problem to allow me to lend a kindle book and deny my access to it as long as it is lended. It’s the broader question about that weird old concept that if i buy something it’s mine.Will the manufacturer fix the device as long as needed for free? dispose it properly after I finished with it? Take responsibility for any damage it may cause? No. Why? because it’s “mine”. So I can also jailbreak it (or throw it under a bus or whatever).

    3. Donna Brewington White

      Good point Fernando.

  3. LIAD

    The divide isn’t between rooters and device makers it’s between rooters and main street. Device makers are simply making what the mass market wants.Joe Public doesn’t grok the issue, and if anything is happy with increasing abstraction between an unsightly OS and their beloved shiny app icons.We however, understand the truism behind Marc Andreessen’s – “There are two kinds of people, those who tell computers what to do, and those who are told by computers what to do.” – and we know EXACTLY which kind we want to be.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      That’s true, most people don’t care. And some that do can’t figure out how to do it because it is not that easy for the average consumer. It’s true that there are kits you can buy, but even with that most users are scared of breaking somegthing in their phone. And the ‘free way’ is even more clumsy. Millions of people jailbreak iPhones, but many more millions don’t. Same with Android.

    2. Dave W Baldwin

      Only problem with Marc’s quote is they are fooled, for it is whomever controls the computer telling them what to do is who is really in control… and enough will in the end want to rebel.

    3. Matt A. Myers

      I got goosebumps!

    4. Tom Labus

      but the market for those who are indifferent is so much larger and that will rule the day

      1. LIAD

        sure, that’s why device makers seem are not focusing on rooters wishes.

    5. Scott Barnett

      Nobody is saying not to make a beautiful device that works flawlessly out of the box. Apple has set a very high bar there. But innovators and weekend hobbyists (http://bit.ly/WA62mZ) should have the ability to innovate on top of the platform. That is why I will support Android and not use iOS.

    6. andyidsinga

      it should also be noted that not all device makers are evil in this regard …samsung ‘exploits’ to root are not exactly being patched. wink wink nudge nudge know what i mean SAY NO MORE: http://m.youtube.com/#/watc

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen


      2. mcbeese

        Google publishes the hardware interface specs for Nexus devices to facilitate innovation and to protect the openness spirit of Android.

    7. ShanaC

      Marc Andreessen is wrong – there is an in between space – those who can do intro coding and can’t build a site, those who can build a site and can’t do big data, etc etc etc

  4. Mark Birch

    I see this as a continuing trend by government(s) and large corporation to make illegal such activities under the rubric of “hacking”. Government in particular has always been wary of hackers and hacker culture as a threat to stability, mostly because of the gap in understanding technology by government leaders.It is encouraging to see the White House and FCC on the right side of this issue. However, we absolutely need to, as a technology community, keep a keen eye on the activities by our government that encroach on our online liberties. SOPA, patent legislation, and phone locking are only a few of the most recent battles with many more to come.

  5. CliffElam

    It’s an interesting question – to what extent has “consumer protection” left us in this mess? Once we believe that “consumer protection” groups should influence government regulations, why are surprised when “industry coalition” groups do the same thing back to consumers.And why is the solution *more* intervention in the marketplace. Good lord, in the UK I can choose between a wide array of PAYG, contract, and everything in between for my mobile needs.Frankly, I am not sure why carriers care if 1% – 2% of phone users crack the DRM and do what they want. It’s a mite on the profit beast.-XC

    1. Hershberg

      This is not a case of consumer protection groups vs industry coalitions. Yes, a law against unlocking cell phones is a clear violation of property rights, but it works to the disadvantage of smaller wireless carriers too. Of the over 100 carriers in this country, only AT&T and Verizon were opposed to unlocking cell phones. They put over $30M into lobbying to not only protect their interests/profits from existing competitors, but to make it more difficult for new telecom companies to enter the market too.

      1. CliffElam

        That is actually a clear example of using legislation to harm consumer interests and prevent a market based spread of available commercial relationships. The fact that it harms competitors (rent seeking) is a bonus.-XC

  6. gorbachev

    The situation is even worse with game consoles, especially with Nintendo manufactured ones. Selling devices that allow hacking Nintendo consoles seems to be a crime compared to terrorism.

  7. William Mougayar

    This is a no brainer debate.Not only that, but they should also abolish 3-yr contracts which is another form of lock-up. In Canada, the CRTC is going to do that.

  8. rimalovski

    I have mixed emotions about this. I agree with the sentiment of not understanding why “I couldn’t do anything with something I own”. On the flip side, as a Dad of 2 young teens and husband of non-technical spouse, I take some comfort in the notion that their iPhones that the apps they have downloaded have been screened at some level, and their phones stay “safe” (whatever that means) and stable. Jailbreaking puts your device at risk that *most* users are not ready for, and as in-house tech support at our home I have little desire/patience/interest to support. I’m very happy that our iPhones don’t look like the wild west of the ’90s Windows world with the higher support burden, more viruses/malware, and generally greater complexity. Everything is a computer at some level these days, and I’m glad it is not easy for the average consumer to hack their car computer that controls their engine/breaking system, medical devices, furnace, etc. There is a tradeoff here that swings both ways. That being said, I value “openness” highly, but I also value ease of use, simplicity and security too.

    1. William Mougayar

      Could there be a balance between the 2 where there’s an equivalent to parental control over the device where you can lock it for them & ensure their safety that way?

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      When we are talking about actions that can directly put other people in danger (can engine/breaking system) I can agree with you. But when we are talking about computers, phones, game consoles… I respect and understand that you want the iPhones in your house to be locked, but that should be so because you choose it, not because someone decides for you.

      1. rimalovski

        Completely agree!

      2. Ana Milicevic

        I agree – but would also like to point out that anything can be classified as potentially putting other people in danger (e.g. cooking knives – should we restrict how one can chop?). Voiding a warranty is one thing, but making exploration & curiosity essentially illegal is another.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          Totally, that is why I wrote ‘directly put other people in danger’. If we twist enough we can make hacking a phone dangerous to other people lives (things like: they can introduce inestability to the network, bring it down and someone in an emergency can’t use it and die).In general I prefer complete freedom and complete resposability, but I understand that we may need to put limits to that because some damages can’t be repaired and thus the responsability part fails.

    3. fredwilson

      i am talking about allowing you to do somethingif you choose not to, that is fine

      1. LE

        You have to protect people from their folly.I think you have to view this under a different (safety/security) lens to see the danger.You buy a car or a house. Both of which you own.But you can’t do whatever you want to those (modify) because it could cause harm to you or harm to others.Your car gets inspected and your house has to meet certain requirements to be habitable. Even if the house sits in an area where if it burns down it won’t harm other houses. Even if you live alone.You need windows, ventilation etc. In my office I can’t keep the emergency doors blocked and I need a front and rear one. When I was a kid my dad was always worried about me riding the freight elevator which he owned. It also wasn’t allowed by law iirc.This has nothing to do (as I’ve mentioned) with the motives of the manufacturers at all. They could have motives and it could still be a danger. People underestimate the danger of unlocked devices. They don’t even know the danger.You can’t take a drug which you have bought (which you own) and give it to someone else either. It’s illegal. The fact that that benefits the drug company is irrelevant.

      2. ShanaC

        i would not be fine if computerized heart equipment was hacked. I do think ther eis a place for the government to say no.

        1. mcbeese

          Yes, any hacking that invalidates FCC certification would not be good. For example, a software controlled power boost that increased radiation levels.

    4. LE

      I agree 100% with this.

    5. rimalovski

      Just saw this: Android Accounted For 79% Of All Mobile Malware In 2012, 96% In Q4 Alone, Says F-Secure (http://m.techcrunch.com/201

      1. fredwilson

        Sounds like a huge opportunity. Reminds me of the McAffee and Symantec opportunity on Windows

  9. fredwilson

    as long as you pay the contract you signed up for, which is the subsidy, then i don’t see how that should affect what you do with the phone

    1. Steve_Dodd


    2. Richard

      (Again not my position). But what about the venture capitalist whose return on investment is dependent of a secure system? (Whether I’d be network effects, pricing, future products, trade secrets etc .)

      1. fredwilson

        she’s a fool to make that investment

  10. Steve_Dodd

    The argument of the “free / subsidized” economy versus the purest. I couldn’t agree more that users should have control over something they own, but when you “bought” that phone, was it subsidized? When you did that google search, did you pay for the results? When you sent that email, did you pay “postage”? So, do you really “own” that phone or rights to other services consumed? Sure some do but the vast majority take the subsidies/freebies and therefore must live with the control consequences.

    1. kenberger

      An important point. “and other actions that users take to gain total control of *their device* should be entirely legal in this country.”– the problem w/ this sentence is that any decent mobile co legal team in this country is going to say that while you’re under contract, it’s NOT YOUR phone.Similarly, Windows and Office aren’t YOUR products either– you *license* them, not *own* them. There’s a brilliance behind that in favor of the companies, but something that’s gone on for so long that the tiny percentage of people who care about this stuff (like me) can see through it (and avoid MS, subsidized phones, or locked-down platforms).

      1. fredwilson

        then make it the law that they have to offer us a price to truly own it

        1. mcbeese

          They already do. Whether or not you like the price is a separate issue related to supply and demand.

          1. fredwilson

            Unlocked maybe. But rooting and jailbreaking are not offered

  11. Chris Fralic

    Fred, do you think users should have the same right/capability to do that to software services?

    1. fredwilson


  12. Luke Chamberlin

    Every day we creep closer to a futuristic cyberpunk wasteland of technological haves versus have-nots. Government drones patrol the skies aiming their mind control beams at citizens. Activate your cyber-optics, people!

  13. Matt A. Myers

    Less friction in the world equals more fluidity equals efficiency equals good for all of us.

  14. RichardF

    I agree with Liad I don’t think the majority want to root at all.I tried hard to dissuade my wife from getting an ipad mini but as it’s the best mini tablet in terms of form out there I was on hiding to nothing. It does what she wants it to do and she’s as happy as can be with it. I actually find it difficult to use now because I’m so used to Android but it is lovely to hold and the screen size is spot on.Not being able to do something as simple as transfer files from a memory stick on an iPhone or iPad is just one of many many reasons why I don’t subscribe to Apple’s world but I appreciate many people are just happy with what they are given

  15. Anthony Serina

    I have read this blog every single day for over three years and never commented once but, I feel the time is right now.Unlocking laws go hand in hand in hand with Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons (making it illegal to resell used goods that are made overseas). I’m not sure why a bigger deal isn’t being made over this case in the tech community because it can have a tremendous impact on the reselling of electronics. I wrote a blog post about it a couple of months ago if anyone is interested http://bit.ly/VF4mN3Making it illegal to do something with a product that you bought is absurd. If you own the phone, do as you like with it. Listening to these carriers cry about unlocking is a joke and getting old. Online petitions are thankfully giving people a voice and showing what people really think, not what lobbyists are throwing money at.

    1. Brandon Burns

      Sweet legal support. Awesome sauce!Comment more, please. :o)

    2. JimHirshfield

      Never heard of that law. Isn’t just about everything in America made overseas? Therefore every tag sale is illegal!

    3. Donna Brewington White

      Unbelievable! I am having a hard time understanding the logic behind the courts’ decisions and how copyright can extend to WHERE something is sold.Concerning phones, regardless of legality of what you do with it once you own it, manufacturers have a valid right to restrict their warranty and that is one way in which they will maintain control over the average user, practically speaking.

      1. Anthony Serina

        I agree manufacturers could restrict parts of the warranty on phones, similar to warranties on cars if you modify the engine.

      2. Max Yoder

        I assume the decision was made to protect the practice of price discrimination, giving Wiley a chance to sell books at a lower cost overseasโ€”where consumers have less money to spendโ€”without the risk of Wiley losing its margins domestically.

        1. LE

          “protect the practice of price discrimination”Everybody practices price discrimination if you want to call it that. You try to get the most out of people that will pay in order to subsidize those who can’t. And use those that can’t to build volume. It’s a valid business model and there is nothing wrong with that. We used to bid on government contracts and sold them well below anyone else. It kept people busy. It had nothing even to do with volume of the order.Restaurants charge more on New Years Eve or Thanksgiving with a special menu. The profit they make from that allows them to reduce prices the rest of the year. If a business comes in and wants to book an event a smart catering manager might jack up the price if he spots an opportunity or weakness on the part of the person who has been tasked with the job. That cheddar allows the restaurant to be profitable and stay open. If they weren’t allowed to do that they might close or the owner might have to cut corners on the quality of food etc.(This has nothing to do with any court decision or my views on that..)

          1. Max Yoder

            I’m on board with everything you say here. I don’t have an opinion on the rightness or wrongness of the court decision. I’m just throwing out my guesses, testing the waters, rolling the stones.

      3. Richard

        Here is one argument(which i do not necessarily share). Fred often speaks of the value of a network effect. Apple banks on the its value and the value thereof is a function of the homogeneity of the product, how it operates and it’s interface. Now one could make a fair use exception argument, but this argument is rebutted as soon an in authorized app is shared and a new network is created.

    4. ShanaC

      what was the logic behind kirtsaeng v john wiley & sons?

    5. fredwilson

      i will read up on it. thanks for the link.

  16. Brandon Burns

    Here’s another reason to support unlocked phones: so we don’t have to live in 2-year contract prisons.After moving between 3 countries and traveling to dozens more, I’ve had my fair share of bullshit phone company treatment: bogus fees, hidden potholes, service inconsistencies, arguments with customer “service” reps, the works. They fuck you over, and then you can’t even escape because they’ve got you tied down for 2 years. It’s like a 2 year rape that we’ve all been trained to just “deal” with.Fuck that. I’ll never sign a phone company contract ever again.The Nexus4 + the T-Mobile monthly plan have been my savior. I’ll never look back.

    1. William Mougayar

      Yes, the 2 or 3-yr contract lock-ups go hand in hand with this. It’s another form of prison & it delays us from being more aggressive with trying new technology. Removing all lock-ups will speed technology adoption & that’s good for everybody.

      1. mcbeese

        “Removing all lock-ups will speed technology adoption & that’s good for everybody.”If the price to acquire a device increases by 200% and the price of a data plan increases by 100-200%, do you really think that will that speed up adoption? I think you will find that outside of the tech community bubble, even the current $199 subsidized prices are considered high. I also think that the Carriers likely have legions of number crunchers working out the optimal pricing strategies for maximum adoption rates.

        1. William Mougayar

          I’m not assuming that the unit prices should go up if the contract terms are shortened. Telco’s are ripping us off as it is. The average consumer is a cash cow to them. This should end. The contracts are like a mortgage on the equipment. I understand its economics. But they could change the terms such that if I stop the service, I return the equipment if I had a contract. Then there could be a second market for older, more affordable units.

          1. mcbeese

            I’m with you emotionally regarding the Telcos, but as long as there is choice and we can choose to avoid the smartphone ‘mortgage’, I’m a staunch supporter of free market supply and demand. If there is a sound business case for what you suggest, somebody will offer it. Investment and innovation finds opportunity as surely as water runs down hill. Regulatory interference will only screw things up because regulators are susceptible to lobbyists.

        2. William Mougayar

          Ah, you’re with Verizon. I’m currently cursing you because I’m stuck with a 2-yr contract on a mifi that I paid $100 for, and need to pay another $125 to get out of the contract. If I didn’t have a contract, I would have liked you to take it back & I would have stayed with Verizon on a month to month basis with a new unit, but without the burden of the long term commitment. You win me on service, not contract.

          1. mcbeese

            No, I am not with Verizon so, respectfully, spare me your curses. I am a FiOS ISP customer and an AT&T wireless customer in Dallas. I purchased a T-Mobile Huawei mifi with a 2-year contract that would end at just about the time that LTE would have decent coverage, and I’m now shopping for the right upgrade. It sounds to me like your issue is that you signed the wrong contract at the wrong time. You had other options, right?

          2. William Mougayar

            Not too many options. 2 options with 2-year contract each.

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      I’m done with contracts, too. Will never do it again. I did the math, and could buy myself an $800 phone up front and still save $1000 over the course of 2 years.

    3. JimHirshfield

      I’ve got the same phone and same phone company. ๐Ÿ™‚

    4. mcbeese

      Cool. You prefer to pay cash for your car than to get a loan or a lease. Everyone else has that choice too. What is the problem?

  17. John Frankel

    Very important post

  18. cv harquail

    I’d like to see the White House also support the ‘jailbreaking’ of the software systems on our automobiles as well as on our phones.Sure, for many people their smart phone and/or computers have become the most important consumer good — and we should be able to control these more, ourselves, legally. We should be able to understand them, customize them, and perform basic kinds of maintenance. This is not just part of being a confident user, it’s also part of being a person who has agency in her/his modern world.That’s why I also argue that it should be our right to *legally* repair our own cars, without worrying that we’re violating the software warrantee simply by trying to get the (stupid) warning light turned off after we’ve fixed the problem. (Note: You have to be able not only to replace the part, but also to tell the car’s computer that the part has been replaced.)I fear we have become passive users of cars, too, since almost no one changes their own oil, or swaps out their alternator themselves anymore. This may be a rather ‘meta’ worry, but there is something important about being able to control and maintain (at least to some degree) the tools we use every day. Just as we should be able legally to cook something healthy from scratch, we should also be able to use the hard ware that we own.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Look who’s here! Nice to see you ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. Ana Milicevic

      “We should be able to understand them, customize them, and perform basic kinds of maintenance. This is not just part of being a confident user, it’s also part of being a person who has agency in her/his modern world.” –> this is really the gist of this argument for me. Very well put. Your cooking analogy is spot on, too.

    3. Richard

      What if one’s business model is dependent on users not jail breaking the device, jail breaking by more than 5 % of users leads to a ROI is less than the cost of capital?

    4. fredwilson

      hell yes!

    5. ShanaC

      i’m actually ok with passive users of cars : I think they are a major expense, bad environment the enviroment, and an item that depreciates. WHy not move to shared ownership?Phones are different, they help manager your life and keep your data and shape your data.

  19. BillMcNeely

    I never really understood why American cell carriers locked their phones. It’s really annoying. In the Middle East I bought the phone the SIM card and began using. Too easy

    1. Aviah Laor

      Because… they can.

  20. jason wright

    where did the locking of phones come from originally?

  21. John Revay

    Generally agree – as long as but jail breaking the device – you don’t cause harm to the carrier’s network – which could affect other users.

    1. JimHirshfield

      Uh, when has that ever happened?

      1. andyidsinga

        My buddy is an EE for one of the carriers and he has told me stories about teachers with jamming devices to disrupt kids txting in classrooms ๐Ÿ™‚ (bad idea).I think they hypothetical is that repurposed device with messed up modem firmware could wreak minor havoc on a particular part of the network. I also wonder if this ever happens.

        1. JimHirshfield

          Jamming in classrooms seems like a net positive to me.

          1. andyidsinga


    2. Richard

      At the margins, jail breaking severs the network?

  22. ErikSchwartz

    This is all tied up in subsidies. Most Americans are very happy to give up some ownership rights to get an 80-100% discount.

    1. PhilipSugar

      Erik, you beat me to the punch. It seems we think alike on this. People say my phone but are not the majority owner. I wonder what people would think if somebody “jailbreaked” their company from the majority investors. I believe you should be able to use your own phone on the network without penalty (no different than what happened on landlines) or maybe they could outlaw subsidies like they do in many countries, but I agree most Americans are very happy to go buy a $100-$200 cell phone.The only con and its a huge one to this is the way their are sold. They are sold as if you owned it. There is not large print on a PS/3 device saying you really don’t own it. Even I can’t slog through Apple and Verizon Terms of Service and they change with the wind. If there was a large print on the box saying you don’t own all rights to this hardware, then I would totally agree, but there is not and that’s because they want you to believe you own it.

      1. Richard

        There is also the “indirect” subsidy. Apple, Samsung pass on the savings of the network effect, app store etc to to consumer. Breaking the network has its costs. Somebody has to pay these costs. (Not my position).

        1. PhilipSugar

          The amount Apple makes from the app store is trivial to how much they make on the device: http://articles.businessins

      2. LE

        “Apple and Verizon Terms of Service”As a practical matter everyone knows they have to BOGU with this stuff and that they have no rights. It actually doesn’t concern most people that they can’t unlock their phone.Also there is the security issues from unlocking your phone as well. I’ve got years of experience in this area and I would never unlock a phone it’s time consuming enough to keep hardware safe when it’s under manufacturer full control and software update. Most people don’t even keep up with patches. Or they entrust things to “their IT guy”. Guess what your “IT guy” most likely doesn’t know jack squat.Also note all the vulnerabilities that large companies (with dedicated IT staff of people who are trained in this) are having because people are exploiting the devices of the their employees (as one vector) to gain access to their networks.

      3. fredwilson

        there is no disclosure in this market. people don’t know what the deal they are making is. if there were prices to pay for the contract subsidy and the lock subsidy, then the market could function, right now it is just fucking us over.

        1. PhilipSugar

          I agree that you cannot complain about somebody violating a term of service that you intentionally hid.

        2. mcbeese

          Fred, I don’t know what the deal is for my cable provider either. I don’ t know if the cable box rental fee is a profit center or a loss-leader because they don’t disclose that. The only thing I know for sure is that that cable companies, telcos, and ISPs are ‘fucking me over’. But that’s the American way so I don’t see a solution.

          1. fredwilson

            over the top will change the cable business. you will get that disclosure because the market is becoming hyper competitive.

  23. Tom Labus

    thanks Disqus for the WP8 app!

    1. JimHirshfield

      You like?

      1. Tom Labus

        let you know in a few days. but first glance, yes.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          Can you manage comments in websites you don’t own (i.e. here) or it is only for admins?

          1. Tom Labus

            good for comments at any disqus site.

  24. Richard

    In the near (very), future, we will be jail breaking plants and seeds. Even today, the Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the issue of whether a purchased “programmed” soy bean seed can copied and then planted. In this case the copying is done via the planting of the originally planted seed! As we approach true genetic computing, what holds true for todays smartphones will hold true for broader classes of innovation. Ancient Chinese proverb “may you live in interesting times”.

  25. gregorylent

    life in a corporatocracy is not pretty .. and not free

  26. JimHirshfield

    Just got a nexus 4 and loving it!

    1. fredwilson

      no LTE though.i am jonesing for the galaxy s4

  27. andyswan

    There is another side to this and ignoring that just contributes to the problem.Those phones in your pockets are $700-1000 devices.Here is the equation for how you get them into your pocket:1) $200 upfront + 2) 2 years worth of contracted data/voice service +3) giving root control of the user experience to provider DURING THE CONTRACT PERIODEach of those has a value to the provider.If you make it illegal for them to receive the 3rd value proposition, you cause one of two things to happen: The value of the other two values must go up (increased up front costs and/or increased contract costs) OR the value of the phones must come down.My position is that this is a voluntary agreement between Provider and Consumer.If you don’t want a phone you can’t unlock, don’t agree to it! Either find a different phone/provider or pay the full no-contract price for the phone! It’s really pretty simple.I do think that calling unauthorized unlock of a phone that you are renting a CRIMINAL action is complete overstep by government. This is a contract issue and the primary recourse that the provider should have is either suspending service, claiming deposit or repossessing the device.But MANDATING that phone companies cannot voluntarily agree to the 3rd value proposition with the 90% of customers that are willing to do so is also an overreach.It will result in either less phone innovation or higher prices…there’s simply no other logical result.

    1. kidmercury


    2. andyidsinga

      it seems to me that if every provider gave up #3 today …there wouldn’t be much change to 1 and 2. due to the low number of users changing the os.in addition there are probably more elegant ways in sw for providers to get rev share for google apps and carrier app revenue than locking down the whole os.

      1. andyswan

        Well, I’d counter-argue that you should be in the cell-phone provider business if you think you can do a better job than the people doing it. You’re assuming that if Apple phones were all unlockable, there would not spring up an entire industry dedicated to unlocking them and educating the masses on the value of unlocking them. You’re making a huge assumption there…. that current behavior would remain static under different incentives and punishment mechanisms.Obviously, they see value in locking the phone– that’s why they do it. Seems arrogant to assume that I know more about their business than they do. I’m just defending their right to enter into voluntary contracts with their customer.

        1. andyidsinga

          no no ..im totally assuming an entire industry would spring up ..it would look just like the linux desktop industry of the 90s and be of marginal concern to apple and carriers. but to users that want to switch it would be above board.edit: agree its arrogant for me to make those statements and pretend i know better that the dev makers and carriers – but its fun to do so ๐Ÿ™‚

        2. fredwilson

          yup. but they should disclose the dollar value of #3 to them and let us pay to get out of it. that should be the law.

          1. andyswan

            How much do I have to pay boxee to Root that device?

          2. fredwilson

            nothing. root away to your heart’s content

          3. andyswan

            Sweet. Buying

    3. Brandon

      Well said @andyswan:disqus. On a side note, I think our government and lawmakers have bigger fish to fry than jail-broken phones.

    4. LE

      “repossessing the device”I’m thinking of a PSA for this issue with Dog the Bounty hunter. Or maybe someone walking into the Pawn Star guys and trying to sell a phone.

    5. PhilipSugar

      As you see from my comments earlier, I totally agree. However, and this is a big one. That is not how they are sold.You know that I totally believe government oversteps their bounds. And there is no excuse for stupidity, nor can the government protect you against yourself.However, I do believe that the government can and should have a say in making sure that there are ground rules for the marketplace. Mandating you actually have to put what the APR is on a credit card or payday loan? No problem from me. Put number 3 in bold type on the contract, no issue. As it is the two year commitment is downplayed as much as possible. No I don’t want every term and condition have to be spelled out, but the big ones, yes.

      1. andyswan

        Agree 100%. I’m arguing more against legislation than for the status-quo, here.

    6. Ryan Frew

      “Those phones in your pockets are $700-1000 devices.”The economics here are bullshit. The price of phones could easily come down without any increase in contract prices. These devices, per Econ 101 principles, are not worth nearly $700-$1000. If they were, devices like the Nexus 7 couldn’t sell for $200 without being ‘subsidized’ by a carrier. It isn’t exactly news that Verizon and AT&T like to play dirty. Normally, I would totally agree that a contract is a contract – end of story. But rolling over like that with these guys is dangerous precedent. AT&T and the other common carriers are on a mission to kill all of the FCC regulation that protects the consumer, so it’s a scary thought to create legislation that gives the carriers further protection on top of that.

      1. ShanaC

        computers of all sorts are commodity items. I’m surprised by the fact that these are being treated as profit centers rather than commodity items

        1. PhilipSugar

          You talk about “livable wage” all the time. I guess it applies to everyone else?

      2. tkr

        Maybe we had different professors for Econ 101, but when I took Econ, the market clearing price was a function of both supply and demand. And in a market with in elastic demand and short-term supply constraints, the market price can be much higher than the equilibrium price.Or maybe you are just cheap.

        1. fredwilson

          an unlocked brand new nexus 4 sells on ebay for about $350. that is the price of a phone. not $700-$1000.

          1. mcbeese

            That is the price of a Nexus 4 on eBay. It’s less than the price of an unlocked Nexus 4 purchased from other sellers that may have an entirely different cost model. Competition and free market is awesome. Surely you are not suggesting that the price of consumer goods in a competitive market should be regulated?

          2. fredwilson

            no. i am suggesting the carriers should be required to offer us options so that the market can price them.

          3. tkr

            You seem to be confusing the COST of a phone with the PRICE of a phone. The PRICE of a phone is observable and the market seems to be pricing them quite well. At least, Apple is pricing its phones well, along with Samsung.COST <> PRICE.

          4. tkr

            Fred – based on everything we read, $350 is the COST of a phone. The price of a phone is something entirely different.

          5. tkr

            Let me clarify that – I understand that $350 is the price of the Nexus 4. My point is a $350 price point for a Nexus 4 has NO IMPACT on the price of other phones unless the Nexus 4 is a perfect or partial substitute for the iPhone and other, more expensive phones.What I think we are seeing is that the Nexus 4 is viewed by the market as a very imperfect substitute. While you can disagree with that conclusion, you can’t conclude 1) there is no market and 2) it is not pricing phones correctly.

      3. mcbeese

        @Ryan – I agree with @tkr โ€“ I think you are confusing cost with price. It is no surprise to me that the pricing strategy for a wifi device like the Nexus 7 is significantly different from the pricing strategy for devices that require Carrier data.

        1. Ryan Frew

          What I was suggesting was that Google/Apple have deals with the mobile carriers to sell the devices at obscenely higher prices if they are not connected to a plan. In other words, I didn’t think that the carriers are “subsidizing” or “leasing” the devices for the consumer, I thought what exists is more akin to a tax for *not* purchasing a device that comes with service. However, further reading indicates sufficient evidence that the carriers are indeed subsidizing the devices. Fortune has a pretty good article about how the iPhone is killing AT&T’s margins.What I’m trying to say is that…that…I was WRONG! Wish that happened less frequently.

          1. mcbeese

            Ryan – wow, you are a Jedi Master who can say “I was wrong”, on the Internet no less. My wife will tell you that I have not mastered that skill yet. I am in awe. Cheers.

          2. Ellie Kesselman

            Ditto! That’s why I have a warm spot in my regulation-loving heart for Peter Thiel. He is the only one of the free-market crowd who publicly acknowledges when he is wrong. The others will claim (in their uniquely humorless, dogmatic style) that any bad outcomes of their creedo-based work are in fact a validation of Murray Rothberg’s hitherto unknown Xth Law of Libertarianism.

    7. mcbeese

      Agree with @andyswan. It’s free market choice. AT&T subsidizes phones to sell service packages and they should be allowed to do that. Don’t like it? Then don’t buy your phone on the carrier’s installment plan. Pay full price and do what you want with it.I don’t think there is anything criminal on any side of this argument, it is all contract law. If you jailbreak your phone and find a way to steal service, that would be theft – but that isn’t what we’re talking about.I think we’re going to see a lot more special purpose devices emerge as the costs for these mobile platforms comes down. Forrester predicts that custom android tablets (Kindle Fire is an example) will outnumber generic android tablets by 2016, so Carriers soon won’t be the only businesses in the device subsidy game, and we’ll be seeing a lot more discussion surrounding device contract terms & conditions. For example, if a newspaper includes a branded tablet with my two year subscription commitment, with the understanding that they will be able to generate ad revenue during this period, are they within their rights to remotely lock the device if I remove their branding during the contract period? I say yes, if its in the contract terms that come with the tablet.

      1. fredwilson

        the market doesn’t function because we don’t disclose the dollar value of #2 and #3 and let consumers buy out of those with additional upfronts

        1. kidmercury

          the dollar value is subjective, and it is sold as a bundled. what you are saying is like saying that jcrew should be required to sell me a shirt without buttons and deduct the cost of the buttons. if i have an aversion to buttons i should find a shirt manufacturer that can cater this need instead of getting law enforcement involved to force jcrew (or, more realistically in my case, kmart) to cater to my desires.

        2. mcbeese

          Fred, I’m missing something in your argument. I dislike the methods of the carriers, but they are competitive companies and there is choice of providers. Why should the carriers โ€“ or any company โ€“ be legally required to disclose and/or change their business model? Should facebook, which is much closer to a monopoly than the carriers, be legally required to disclose the value of ads or promoted posts in news feeds, and provide me with an option to buy out of those?

          1. fredwilson

            not really, there are three and a half wireless competitors in this country. it is an oligopoly

    8. Kirsten Lambertsen

      But is it a mandate? Is it *mandating* that providers agree to let customers unlock their phones without contractual consequences? Or, as I read it, is it simply *decriminalizing* something that should have been left in contract law in the first place.Oh, and I agree that we all need to start voting with our wallets. That’s what I’ve been doing for over a year.

      1. ShanaC

        well, did you buy the phone or the phone plus a software licence?

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Like a good consumer, I have no idea if I bought a software license with my phone ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s a no-contract service with a (I think) locked phone.But my next phone purchase will be an unlocked phone into which I will insert a sim card from a no-contract provider. La!

          1. Cam MacRae

            The only way to travel. Literally.

    9. ShanaC

      ooof, there is a new disqus “more comment” feature. yuck.And it isn’t a rental – it is more akin to a mortgage- they earn more than the value of the phone by having you pay over time over the life of the contract.Unfortunately, unlike real estate technology rare holds its value.

      1. fredwilson

        i like the more comment thing. it will push people to make shorter comments. and that’s a win for all of us.

        1. guest

          I understand a need for brevity, but sound bites rarely lead to intellectual discourse.

          1. PhilipSugar

            You can still write a long reply and have it read. You just need to make your point up front.

        2. kidmercury


      2. mcbeese

        However, let’s not forget that we all have the option to not choose the mortgage and instead choose the ‘unlocked eBay’ option. I think that’s a critical point in the discussion.

    10. Copyleft

      Andy, I’m glad you agree that the law has overstepped its bounds here, but let’s consider why the Librarian of Congress decided to declare it illegal in the first place.The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) gives him the authority to declare unlocking illegal. Why is that? It’s a bill about Copyrights. You know, that old part of the US Constitution which gives authors a limited time to “own” the books they produce. In that way, publishers could not rob the author of a revenue stream for a long enough period of time to allow the author to have an incentive to write the books in the first place.So it makes sense that the country’s top Librarian might be given some say over a law on books. But how did limited ownership of books translate into mobile carriers deciding on how I use my pocket computer? Let’s try to follow their logic.You see there’s computer code on the phone that prevents it from talking to other networks. That, in effect, is the book. Since the carriers wrote that book, they have exclusive rights to distribute it. Sound good so far. But here’s the problem. The DMCA says that if I purchase their book, I’m not allowed to make any alterations to my own personal copy. I can’t highlight a passage. I can’t tear out a page. I can’t erase all the pages and write what I want in it.Say what?! When did that happen? That’s not how copyrights work for real books. Why is that how copyright works for digital books? If I buy a physical book, I can do whatever I darn well please with it. I can lend it, write in it, draw pictures in it, tear out the pages and put them in another book. Why is it suddenly illegal to do that with digital books? The DMCA, that’s why.So you see, the answer is very clear. We need to repeal the DMCA. We don’t need some specific exemption put in place for mobile phones. Otherwise, we’re just going to end up fighting this same fight again over tablets, or smart watches, or whatever else the future brings.

    11. fredwilson

      i am not entirely sure what value comes from them having control of the device. i get the value of the 2 year contract and i am not suggesting we do anything to void that. but if there is value to them having control of the device, then i would like to know what the dollar value of that is so i can pay it up front and get rid of it. and consumers should know that.

      1. Prokofy

        You do realize that most people are just going and getting that app that Saryn or whatever his name is puts out and jailbreaking their phone and never paying the contract off, right? That’s the reality. That’s why we need law to prosecute crime. People don’t pay.

        1. fredwilson

          people are happy to pay for value. but when shitty companies fuck over their customers, that kind of thing happens.

        2. Ellie Kesselman

          You’re right, unfortunately. Or right, enough of the time. It isn’t due to disposable income or lack thereof. My relative (sometimes, with some products & services) does as you described, if he thinks he can get away with it. Yet it doesn’t even occur to his parents to do that, whether e-commerce related or not. I don’t know why. Fear of legal consequences, both civil and criminal, is a necessity. I’l turn down my moralizing dial, from 11 to 7; Rephrasing Fred, cynically but realistically: Some “people are happy to pay for value” Yet it is sufficient but not necessary for companies to be s###ty, and f### over their customers, for that kind of thing to happen. In other words, not-paying by customers is experienced by non-s###ty companies too, especially in circumstances where there is no fear of reprisal for the customer. I wish Fred’s original observation were more frequently representative of human behavior, retail and otherwise.

      2. kidmercury

        very real value in the operator having control of the device — for the end user. when malware gets installed, people want someone else to be able to remove it. when pirated stuff gets added, copyright holders want it removed (rightly or wrongly). and of course, when law enforcement wants to track you down…….

        1. Ellie Kesselman

          3) Evading law enforcement isn’t a convincing reason, not here! 2) Do individuals receive DMCA take down orders for cell phone content? Seems unlikely. 1) Malware is worrisome. Will carriers help? If not, are you out of luck unless your phone is housebroken?

      3. mcbeese

        The Carriers are making a lot of money from control of the device. Control of the device protects roaming income, tethering income, and incoming from exceeding your voice and data plans. Data caps are a revenue strategy, not a network management requirement. If your device is unlocked, you can purchase local SIMs when traveling. You can purchase prepaid SIMS for occasions when you need to tether. You can purchase much cheaper prepaid data SIMs if you exceed your plan instead of being gouged with the Carriers overage rate.

        1. fredwilson

          yup. i do all of that. which is why i root, unlock, and jailbreak. and so many people don’t know any of that is possible because they don’t have a general purpose computer in their pocket.

    12. Prokofy

      I agree, except how is the provider going to know his device is jailbroken? Wouldn’t everybody complain about surveillance and the police state if he does? I’m all for doing this and having the service shut off dead if the device is tampered with but I’d be happier to treat it as a crime and prosecute it as a crime and have organic law deter cyberspace. We need more of that.BTW it’s like Amazon recently inventing a switch, “can’t download too many files from our servers”. You could call it “The Aaron Swartz Switch”. Good!

      1. mcbeese

        Some manufacturers have already added firmware features to detect rooting (register fingerprints),inform the carrier, and then lock the device. It can’t by bypassed unless you can flash the firmware.

  28. baba12

    Unlocking devices and having access to the OS is one thing, but more importantly would one be happy if unlocking leads to create marketplaces that takes away revenues. I have an unlocked iphone, I have bought apps on Cydia, Apple is not happy having no cut in the revenues created on Cydia’s platform.On the Android platform, revenues are created on several different marketplaces, but most people using Android devices by default only get to the Android marketplace, Android does not list the other marketplaces, the end user has to be savvy enough to find other marketplaces.In the end all this blocking or making it illegal etc comes down to money and how people want to control the distribution of those monies.It took a lot of effort to root a boxee box and that is deemed illegal by Boxee. I am in the process of figuring out how to root a roku box, so far have bricked 2 units. But to Mr.Wilson’s point it should be legal to root/unlock your devices and find what else to do with it, not just because it is right but because it has greater impact on the environment and climate change. If you constantly are going to force people to upgrade to a new device while locking them from getting more out of their current device stack you ar directly contributing to resources being depleted. Maybe Mr.Wilson can see things around unlocked devices from that angle.

    1. Richard

      Yep, for example, what if there are trade secrets under the hood?

      1. baba12

        Oh blimey “trade secrets” again comes down to money i.e. how much would be fair to share those secrets?If USV was told by an startup that they want to limit their profits to not more than 20% I would think USV would say that is a good idea but not good enough for them to invest in that startup. All comes down to money and what is reasonable/fair etc. If you play pure market economics then yes whatever the market will bear would be the fair value. But we dont live in a pure free market and those who claim to think that way are drinking the wrong coolaid.

        1. Richard

          Not sure i follow your point. What if after, capital budgeting, apple had determined back in 2007 that for the iphone to have an a ROI in excess of some threshold, the future revenue for each phone would need to be 1x the price of then phone. Further, what if the jail brakin were shown with high provbility to put the model at risk?

          1. baba12

            Well what I was suggesting is that the locking of phones and making unlawful to break that lock has to do with money. As much as Apple may claim to want to control user experience, they also are protecting their ability to sustain the margins they have having an exclusive marketplace.It is about maintaining a certain profit margin and if that is threatened then instinct is to create barriers and get laws passed to protect the turf.

      2. andyidsinga

        but then understanding intent of reverse engineering is important. Intent to cause harm to company X, or intent to learn?+ how does a hacker/hobbyist know when she’s come upon a trade secret when she’s hacking / repurposing her device? Does she have to go back and do searches to see if a particular circuit or software algorithm has been published / patented etc etc? ohh trade secrets seems like the slippery slope to me.

    2. andyidsinga

      this is the really interesting part – (cc @andyswan:disqus) I think there are essentially two parallel issues here:1) people wanting technical control of their device, the software on it, and ability to hack/modify/repurpose *without any particular desire to change carriers or use an alternate app stores*2) people who want to change networks, app stores – possibly disrupting revenue streams that are part and parcel to the subsidized device contract.#1 should be totally allowed, for #2 carriers/whoever should have contract recourse.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        I think many cases fall between 1 and 2. You start doing it for a particular use or just because it’s fun, the you get to know that other app store/service and buy new things there.

  29. andyidsinga

    is rooting not legal? ..i have an acquaintance who wants to know, i dont really know him well or anything, occasionally bump into him in totally random places around town, kinda funny actually, dont even know his last name ha ha ha haaaaah..

    1. Elia Freedman

      It is not as of about a month ago due to an interpretation of DMCA.

      1. andyidsinga

        but I thought that was *unlocking* (?) … a rooted device that gets root access on the OS (or changes the OS version/build) does not necessarily have to unlock it from a particular carrier’s network. (cc @andyswan:disqus )Hmmm.. this makes me wonder. My acquaintance ๐Ÿ˜‰ who uses CM on his phone notes a distinct difference between os images and modem firmware ..changing the os, but keeping the stock modem firmware.

  30. andyidsinga

    +1 for the CM reference. cheers to those folks!

  31. Jmw.

    If people have absolute control over their experience with a web page or a device, they’ll destroy it for themselves. EXAMPLES: they accept every Friend Request until they hate their news feed, download every windows app until their chock-full-of-viruses, layout their own MySpace pages until they discover that fifteen neon colors are a little too overwhelming for one page, etc.We need parameters and limitations, curators and tastemakers. Steve Jobs did the world a favor by locking those phones. Sure, we miss out on a couple of really awesome features and apps. But we also avoid tons of horribly designed widgets and millions of lines of malicious code.

    1. fredwilson

      i hope you enjoy your iPrisonhttp://fc09.deviantart.net/…

      1. Jmw.

        It’s more of an iResort for me. I can unlock my phone if I want to, but I like the decisions that Apple has made for me–overall.

      2. kidmercury

        hahahaha that is awesome!!!!

  32. Steven Kane


  33. kidmercury

    if you don’t like the terms, dont use the service.moreover these are networked products that exist in a shared environment. the platform operator is responsible for governing the shared environment; the consumer can accept or reject those terms.as usual, just watch what amazon does, and copy what they are doing to fit your approach.

    1. fredwilson

      then disclose the terms. what is the value of the lock subsidy. and let me pay to get out of it.

      1. mcbeese

        What is the value of having Hulu on Boxee, and how much cheaper is it if I don’t want it?

        1. fredwilson

          zero, because boxee doesn’t pay anything for any of the content on its device. you do.

  34. Tommy Chen

    I believe jailbreaking and rooting is already legal in the US, but doing so will void your warranty with the manufacture, which makes sense. Buying an unlocked phone is also legal and carriers do unlock your phone if you are no longer under contract or paid full price for your device.

  35. andyswan

    Well in my book that would reduce the value of the contract with the user and the provider would need to make up for that loss. Stand by original statement while quasi-agreeing with you.

  36. Benedict Evans

    It’s always fascinating to watch the US wireless industry catch up to how the rest of the world has behaved for a decade or more.Outside the USA and a few other oligopolistic markets, unlocking your phone at the end of the contract period is, like mobile number portability, a standard industry practice, mandated by the regulator and taken for granted.However, it is really pretty pointless unless the operators also have ‘SIM-only’ plans – that is, allow you to get a cheaper monthly contract if you’re not taking a new subsidised phone.Or, they have prepaid plans that are economically attractive to typical users. Without that, unlocking the phone is pointless to most consumers: your old phone may be unlocked but you’re also obliged to pay for a new phone anyway. 50% of the European base is on prepay.As an aside, though, I think Fred is, just a little, ‘arguing against his book’. The value of the USV portfolio in large part depends on the fastest possible adoption of the best possible smartphones by the largest possible number of people. 24 month contracts accompanied by subsidies and a ‘mandatory’ ‘free’ new smartphone at the end results in much higher smartphone penetration than is seen in those markets that don’t have this model (such as Italy, for example).Taking this further, the US has the highest contract prices, amongst the biggest subsidies and amongst the highest penetration of contract (as opposed to prepay) of any developed mobile market – it also has the highest smartphone penetration. In other words, some of the things Fred doesn’t like serve to increase the addressable market of many of his investments.

    1. fredwilson

      i always talk my book. count on that continuing.

  37. Elia Freedman

    Here is the part I don’t get: since when is the Library of Congress a law enforcing body? It is the Library of Congress that made this decision under DMCA. Why would the Library of Congress even have a say in the matter?

    1. Hershberg

      The U.S. copyright office is part of the Library of Congress, which makes the Librarian of Congress responsible for any changes to the DMCA. The president is responsible for appointing someone to that role.

      1. Elia Freedman

        Ah, okay. Thanks. Insane.

  38. Stephen Ackroyd

    As the phone has evolved into an instrument for the delivery of highly valuable audio, video and apps, the question of security for the high value content is reasonable. In a free market, there should be options for open vehicles – where presumably content providers would not elect to vend high value content, and closed secure vehicles where content providers feel secure in vending their high value content.The presumption that we need to make every platform hackable, really is a disservice to people who want to choose security for the content they sell.This is a classic example of technology people really showing little or no respect to creative people.While there are strong arguments for open platforms, a mandate that all platforms have to be open is almost a religious point of view that fails to take into account the very real concerns of people with real and legitimate concerns for the security of what they create.

    1. fredwilson

      count me in the group with little or no respect. they have earned no respect from me.

  39. kenberger

    besides the point (or maybe it actually IS the point), but oh, the freedom of unlocking.I’m now in the 7th country since unlocking my Note 2. Did that myself easily via instructions I found online. Most countries these days have great pay as you go plans w/ both data sim’s and microsim’s available cheaply.Often times, you still have to be technically adept to avoid issues, even if you don’t leave the country. The Note I have is the ATT model, but ATT doesn’t sell a PAYG sim. So you’re stuck w/ T-mo. But then the data speeds aren’t very good unless you apply a hack. Few people know how, or should be doing that.And rooting Androids allows me fun and useful apps such as advanced GPS tools that are helpful when travelling.Looking fwd to attending the Galaxy S4 launch in NY next week.

    1. fredwilson

      i want one. but i want it with a clean build of android. cyanogen on S4?

      1. kenberger

        here’s how it went w/ the Note 2 launch, we’ll see if S4 proceeds the same:I walked out that night w/ a phone that had the very latest official Android OS. Within weeks, self-serve unlock codes were available (which I shared with you– let me know if you try to use it w/ a tmo chip, as there’s a performance tweak available). Within a month, other phones had slightly newer official OS’s.A frustrating issue w/ the US models such as the Note 2 is there’s a different model # and kernel for each US carrier. This makes things tougher for the dev world to support. cyanogenmod came out for the international Note 2 very quickly after launch; it’s just now out for att and tmo, 4 months later. One cool thing w/ the Galaxy line is they don’t lock the bootloader (making rooting a bit easier).

  40. matthughes

    It’s amazing that this is a White House-level issue – a sign of the times.

  41. Pete Griffiths

    Completely agree.

  42. Stephen Alfris

    I agree. It seems that this practice is anti-competitive at its coreHaving locked phones and controlled environments is like the old days in Australia where you could not transport your phone number from one provider to anotherIt resulted in a situation that the big companies could dominate and we lost a great deal of competition and innovation from the market.In saying that, if I was one of these firms I would be doing everything in my power to protect this competitive advantage. Also big restrictions on competition sometimes lead to the biggest innovations as you need a step rather than incremental change to overcome the disadvantage.

  43. tkr

    I agree, Fred. Its time to take a stand. Lets start by getting all those Boxee Boxes unlocked.Right? Because its the right thing to do, right?

    1. fredwilson

      hell yes. what is locked on them?

  44. Prokofy

    I have always said that you are a bolshevik, Fred, and I’ll say it again: you may have gotten away with Lenin’s New Economic Plan for a short term but now you are sawing off the branch you’re sitting on, not merely selling the rope to the capitalists to hang them. You keep this up, they will jail you as an anarchist.Jailbreaking is crime. It is the celebration of criminality. It’s wrong. It also is theft. As the others are explaining, the phone costs $500 or whatever it really costs (it ought to cost more if Chinese workers were given better conditions). That cost is essentially disguised from legions of greedy geeks and ordinary people who want to be “smart” (like me) and have a “smart phone” (I have a 3G that I got for $50 at Radio Shack but I had to lock into a phone bill of hundreds of dollars every month). That cost is a loss-leader and people are forced into the phone bill agreement because that is spread over time. It’s like buying a washing machine “on time” at Sears Roebuck.Now you want to “liberate” this property and screw the telecoms out of the payment for the actual cost of their actual gadget because they threaten Google’s monopoly, and you need Google like air for your own business ventures. But free enterprise means free enterprise, freedom for other people, too. They get to exist and push back.I wish you had a vision of freedom and pluralism instead of a vision of executive revolutionary expediency. It’s better for customers, and it’s better for you in the long run.By applauding this bedlam with the ill-conceived whitehouse.gov/petitions ruse, you are trying to hijack the executive power of government then to impose your vision of copyleftism and techocommunism on society. We can only pray that the courts and Congress will push back against this geek hijacking and this awful executive overreach. We don’t need to change the DMCA law because that will incite just more scofflawyers and criminality in geeks than we already have, which is 7 million phones jailbroken according to Scoble and his jailbreaking pal Saryn.While I think of it, on another topic, the awfulness of start-up culture — you should attend to this:http://blog.prettylittlesta

    1. fredwilson

      i think it should not be a crime. that was the point of the post.

      1. Prokofy

        But it *is* a crime. And a crime *you yourself do* as you bragged at the beginning about rooting and whatnot. You can’t just tap ruby slippers together and wish yourself in some better place and try to force that imaginary narrative on everyone.

        1. fredwilson

          it shouldn’t be

  45. Jack Barcroft

    This is a very important topic right now and there are thousands of companies making money on both sides of the argument. As we see more service providers pop up like Solavei who provides unlimited everything for $49 per month which allows consumers to bring their own unlocked phones, this issue will come to a head quickly. Marketplace dynamics are always a good thing, alas I am just a gongoozler

  46. CID

    All MODS are built on CYANOGEN… even Ubuntu has built on top of Cyanogen.

  47. MikeL

    I have never understood this argument. I own an unlocked iphone 5 running on a post paid non contract plan with AT&T. I chose not to buy a subsidized device and paid full price for the phone. No one is stopping you from doing this. Why do I need the government involved in this?

  48. george

    True choice is allowing both approaches to coexist and allow users to choose. I prefer iOS iPhone and iPads but it doesn’t bother me if others choose an android platform. Freedom is about choice. The government’s focus should be on budgets not unlocking phones.

  49. Chris Fralic

    I’d like to use Twitpic instead of Twitter Pictures, but Twitter doesn’t let me, or makes it really hard to do. I’m trying to think how that’s different from what Verizon or Apple does on a phone with their services.

  50. Ana Milicevic

    It’s slightly different because you’ve paid for the mobile phone and you own it. You don’t have the same relationship w/ Twitter (or Twitpic).I think you do have some flexibility today (at least until the platform of choice cuts access like Twitter/Tweetdeck, etc). What you sacrifice is usability and you add more friction — so your Twitpic experience (and that of your Twitter friends) won’t be as easy as the native Twitter photo solution but it’s still doable, and certainly not for the time-being illegal.

  51. fredwilson

    it shouldn’t be that way. if i controlled the company, it wouldn’t

  52. kidmercury

    twitter will end up being the most tyrannical by far, if it isn’t already.