Apple is Evil – Part 2

So in my last post, we established my backstory with Apple. I’ve had a pretty good run with them. My 2G iPhone had served me well, it was showing its age, and was time to get replaced. I had bought a new iPhone 3GS from a 3rd party seller using cash. No contract with AT&T or Apple was agreed to, and it had a carrier unlock pre-installed that allowed me to use the phone on T-Mobile. All is well, right?

Not so much.

The iPhone 2G has been so thoroughly unlocked as to leave the user with a very seamless experience. If you don’t care at all about console or non-Apple Store applications, you can restore or upgrade via iTunes to your heart’s content, no problem. The only issue is of course if you need to activate the phone. If you don’t have an AT&T account, you have to use something like PwnageTool or QuickPwn to “hacktivate” the phone – get you past the “911-only” mode and then you’re good. In the proper activation process it generates a pair of certificates – a push certificate and an youtube certificate. I went through this when iPhoneOS 3.0 came out – people had been using shared certs for youtube without issue, but doing that with push certs is a problem. The solution is to get an AT&T user to generate a push cert for you, and to “inject” the cert into your keychain. Minor annoyance, but not a big problem – in fact if you didn’t care about push capability you wouldn’t even notice it.

Fast forward to now – I exported my certs off of my 2G, injected them on my 3GS, and expected all to be well. Turns out that there’s a difference in the 2G and 3GS certs, or I screwed up during the export from my 2G. Either way, push wasn’t working.

When the 3.0 iPhoneOS came out, I jumped onto IRC and tried to help out with the push situation. I was one of the first to realize the problem with the shared certs for push. I was well aware of how the push certs worked, and after doing some research, it seemed as though there was a faster, simpler, and safer way to fix the problem than I had previously done, which was to restore the phone with an AT&T sim in the phone, run PwnageTool, restore, reboot, and in that process, my own certs would be generated. I could then go back to my T-Mobile sim, and life would be good. No problem.


At some point in December or January, Apple began selling iPhone 3GS phones with an updated bootrom that was not able to be worked around with current unlocking tools. My phone was one of those, but I didn’t realize that there was a difference. My phone was running iPhoneOS 3.1.2, and had a baseband version of 5.11.07. From my reading, PwnageTool could handle this no problem, so I proceeded.

This is the precise point where Apple’s evil reared it’s ugly head.

The iPhone 3GS, although it looks exactly like the iPhone 3G in just about every respect save for the way the RAM is stacked on the mainboard, does something radically different from the first 2 revisions, and something that – not only do I not agree with it – I find it repulsive, unethical, and to put it bluntly, should be illegal.

The phone “phones home”. From the user’s perspective, iTunes “checks in” with Apple to ask permission to let you run a restore to a specific version of iPhone OS. Apple has to sign off (from a technical standpoint, this is literally so) on your decision to install a specific OS version on your phone, and they get final veto power in that regard. Not connected to the internet? Tough – no restore for you. Basically, Apple released an OS upgrade from 3.1.2 to 3.1.3. There was a minor bugfix involved, but really all it did was “fix” the phone unlockers. That’s it – the two OS versions are identical. They then proceeded to stop signing 3.1.2. So if your phone has an issue and you need to reload OS, iTunes would force you to upgrade to 3.1.3, and you would not be able to unlock – the new baseband, 5.12.01, would prevent that. This situation, where iTunes forces you to the latest version, has apparently been the case with the 3GS from day one, but it was news to me.

The truth of this situation is actually even more evil than that – it’s not iTunes that’s phoning home. It’s the handset itself! iTunes just blindly does as it is told by the handset. The handset itself wants Apple to approve of the install. Apple has inserted themselves between the user and the device – you no longer have the final say over what you can or cannot do with the device you THAT YOU HAVE BOUGHT. It makes me sick to my stomach. Sure, I may void my warranty, but I can do whatever the heck I want to MY PHONE. It’s *MINE*. There is no technological reason I can’t install whatever the heck I want on *MY DEVICE*. The only reason I can’t install a version of firmware on the 3GS is because Apple has decided that their bottom line is more important than your basic right to use your device as you see fit.

So when I went to upgrade, I tried to use PwnageTool, and basically bricked my phone trying to restore to 3.1.2. That left me in a situation where my only recourse was a proper restore to version 3.1.3, rendering the phone just as unusable to me. In an email from a later situation from Apple, they state their thoughts on the matter:

WARNING: Apple has discovered that some of the unauthorized unlocking programs available on the Internet may cause irreparable damage to the iPhone’s software. As part of the service process, Apple will update the software on your iPhone to the latest version. IF YOU HAVE MODIFIED YOUR IPHONE’S SOFTWARE, YOUR IPHONE MAY BECOME PERMANENTLY INOPERABLE WHEN APPLE UPDATES THE SOFTWARE. Making unauthorized modifications to the software on your iPhone violates the iPhone software license agreement, and the inability to use your iPhone due to unauthorized software modifications is not covered under your iPhone’s warranty. “

Now I understand unauthorized software not being covered under warranty. NO PROBLEM! That is about as reasonable as reasonable gets. It’s the “Apple has discovered that some of the unauthorized unlocking programs available on the Internet may cause irreparable damage to the iPhone’s software.” that I take issue with. The unlocking software does no damage *at all*. In fact, I can say with 100% certainty that, in this situation, it’s Apple going out of their way to cause the “damage”! They’re rendering your phone inoperable, and they’re doing it on purpose. They’re doing it for no reason at all other than to force you into buying service with AT&T. This is insane. To further establish my point, AT&T went to the FCC with the message that people who unlock and jailbreak their phones are breaking the law! It’s worth noting in that same article, The Electronic Freedom Foundation, Mozilla, and Skype all went to the FCC and asked for an exception to the DMCA, along with Saurik (the developer of Cydia), to allow them to have legal ground to install software outside of the App Store.

I could keep going here. The fact is that the iPhone 3GS is a glowing example of what is wrong with computing today. It is TPM’ed and DRM’ed to kingdom come. It’s locked down, and Apple has taken it upon themselves (likely at the behest of AT&T) to take final control of your device away from you. You doing something they don’t like? Well then – no phone for you. They’re hiding behind the iPhone Software License Agreement, which apparently grants them this right and you are supposed to read in it’s entirety and agree to before leaving the store with your new phone – which NO ONE DOES. The thing is 159 pages and 4.9MB of legaleze. Absorb that for a moment. ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-NINE PAGES. My mortgage has less paperwork involved. Most collegiate dissertations have less paper involved. To make it worse, it’s small typeface. Are you kidding me?

What if your toaster pulled this stunt? You take it home, modify it to take bagels instead of bread. Something unrelated to your modification breaks, and you had to install a software update to the toaster, and that software intentionally breaks your toaster because it somehow harms that manufacturer’s business model for you to buy bagels instead of slices of bread.

What makes this acceptable? Yes – I admit, the iPhone is a tiny macintosh with an ARM CPU – but that’s because I’m a technology professional. To anyone else, IT IS A PHONE. You can’t license the very thing that makes the phone operate and somehow say you own the phone, but ALL YOUR ROM ARE BELONG TO US. NO! I have OS 3.1.2 on my computer – I don’t need to “check in” with you to load a piece of software that by the wording in your own license I am allowed to have.

I’m just stunned. So in short, my 3GS was made useless. I managed to make arrangements to get another 3GS that had an older bootrom and life was good, but the whole experience left a sour taste in my mouth. I was VERY close to selling the 3GS and get Google Nexus or some other Linux-based phone. I have my concerns about Google’s data-mining though. I honestly feel like all tech vendors are out to rape people one way or another. Either you don’t have full control of the devices you buy, or they’re data mining you, or somehow or another watching your every move. As it is, I had just installed Firewall iP on my phone, and was stunned at the amount of rules I had to activate to keep the thing from phoning home here, there, and everywhere with information about how I’m using the phone.

When did this become acceptable behavior?

I’m done. A few years ago, you might have been labeled a nut by advocating that people switch to Linux. I know, I started a company for that very purpose. I’m now back in the workforce. My primary desktop at work is Ubuntu. Linux is ready, or at least “ready enough”. No more – Apple’s customer service is still great – a stupid screen cover vendor (this will be another post) ruined my second 3GS, and Apple graciously offered to replace that handset free of charge even though they have no obligation to do so. This is the type of thing that has garnered my trust for YEARS.

But then I get an email from them that states (I’m summarizing) that “if your phone was unlocked, it won’t be anymore, you won’t be able to unlock it, and even though we’re depriving you of use of your phone, that’s not our fault or problem – it’s the unlocking software you use that did it”. Not only is this not true, it’s yet another example of one hand not knowing what the other is doing. Apple’s customer service goes out of their way to make you happy, then either Apple legal, or some sleeze that works with AT&T sticks their nose into the situation and says “oh, btw the way….bend over”. I won’t presume this is Steve Jobs’ doing directly, because that would be unfair. This whole mess seems to have started when they agreed to do business with AT&T.

I’ve had enough Apple. At this point, I’m spending $100 to have my phone repaired by a complete stranger over the internet rather than take your new phone for free. At that point I have a decision to make – and the irony of the situation is that I’m in the market for a new laptop. Prior to this experience that was a slam-dunk. A PowerMacBook. Not any more. What’s really sad is that from a hardware standpoint, the MacBook – even if I put Linux on it, is straight up superior. I can’t find a laptop that is of even close to the same manufacturing quality. Worse, I cannot refer people to Apple in good conscience, because there’s going to come a point where whomever/whatever is sending these messages out and instating these policies (there are reports of unlocked phone users going into the apple store with hardware problems and the geniuses forcing 3.1.3 upgrades before looking at what is a HARDWARE problem, and this is Apple Policy!), is going to start getting their way wholesale and the customer service experience with Apple is going to suffer for it. The customers are now distrusted and are subjected to policy idiocy. Why would I send my friends, family, and colleagues into that mess? The iPad – oi, I won’t re-type what Defective By Design has already said on the subject, other than to say that the iPad is Microsoft’s own wet dream come reality, and Apple made it. Take everything I just said about the iPhone, and apply it to your laptop (or in this case, tablet) computer. Locked down, Apple has final say, all software must come through Apple, they get a cut of everything – if Microsoft pulled such a stunt the entire planet would get up in arms. We’re giving Apple a free pass because of past performance (they’ve been good to their customers in the past) and they don’t have as much market share as Microsoft (thus not a monopoly).

This is scary stuff. Apple, in the last 5 years, has led the charge to doomsday tech – started with implementing TPM (the so called “trusted computing module”, ie don’t trust the user, trust the manufacturer and what makes us $$$) in the x86 Macs, and it’s just gone downhill from there. They closed the sources to Mac OS X, so no more open source kernels. They release the iPhone and do a deal with the devilAT&T, they start treating their customers like criminals….I’m done. I cannot support this kind of behavior.

Google at least has a motto I can get behind. They may not ahere to it as nicely as I would like – as Ethan over at SpiderOak points out, but at least part of that is due to them painting themselves into a corner and not neccessarily out of bad intentions. The issue I have with going to the Google Nexus is that there’s more at stake. Apple can deprive me of a device I legally purchased. Google can sell off my privacy, my very identity.

It’s a mess. Make no mistake though – these are dark days in computing, and Apple is no safe haven. Buyer beware. For the moment, my iPhone cannot have it’s OS reloaded to the version I want, and if Apple where to ever “go away”, the servers they use to sign go offline, or anything else that would render the phone’s ability to “phone home” moot, my phone is done. That’s not acceptable, and should not be acceptable to anyone.

In in last 8 years I have helped port SpamAssassin, SpamAssassin Milter, and TiVo utilities to Mac OS X, along with countless other small programs here and there. I’ve helped out users at MacOSXHints to understand how the filesystem mounting system works and how Apple has set up multicast dns resolution versus monocast dns. While I was running my company, I set up networks full of Apple Mac computers and encouraged new customers to consider switching.

Perhaps not directly, but Apple has chosen to alienate me. How many people like me will Apple also alienate before they reconsider? My guess is infinitely many, and that this path is set and will never be undone. Goodbye Apple. It was fun while it lasted – enjoy your draconian level of control. I’ll have no part of it.


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