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Jailbreaking is a process of hacking a device to bypass the Digital Rights Management (DRM) software on an iOS device. It allows the user to make tweaks to his/her operating system that could not be done otherwise, and it gives the user the ability to run “unauthorized” software (meaning software that was not approved to be added to the App Store). Some of the tweaks, modifications, and apps are really helpful (a few of them may have inspired some of the iOS improvements with each new release), and some are not.

Jailbreaking is not currently illegal, though some companies are trying to make it so. At this time, all companies like Apple can do is tell people that jailbreaking violates the terms of user agreements or policies and therefore voids the warranty of the device. And while I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether or not it should be legal, I do think there are some ethical considerations regarding jailbreaking.

On the one hand, the device was purchased by the user (or for the user). If it belongs to someone, shouldn’t he or she be allowed to do what he/she wants with it? This article on jailbreaking states that some people liken it to buying a car with the hood welded shut so that you can’t modify the engine — it’s just “not right.” These people insist that jailbreaking is their right since they paid for the device. On the other hand, Apple, and some other companies, continue to fight the practice insisting that lawmakers make it illegal, since there are apps and tweaks available to jailbroken devices that violate copyright laws. While these companies have not succeeded in changing the laws, they will inform you that they are not required to help you if your hacked iPhone or iPad has a problem.

Like most gray areas of our society, the ethics of jailbreaking really come down to the intention of the user. If the user has done it to customize their device, to add functionality that would not otherwise be available on the device, jailbreaking can be a good thing. Imagine being able to highlight text by swiping it instead of clicking and holding then dragging handlebars to select the text. Imagine being able to have five icons in the “dock” of your iPhone instead of four. Imagine being able to customize your iPad or iPhone so that you make the clock larger across the top or have the home page display the temperature and forecast for you or have a Bible verse or inspirational quote displayed across the top of the device on the home page. These are just a few of the reasons that people choose to jailbreak their systems. There is nothing inherently wrong with these reasons. While the Bible tells us to obey those in authority over us, some might argue that Apple and other large companies are not really in authority over us. They serve their own interests and offer a service, but that does not necessarily give them the right to limit what we can or cannot do to something we bought from them.

That said, there are several compelling reasons not to jailbreak your iOS device. First and most obviously, it voids any warranty on the device. User agreements that we enter into when we purchase and use a device or piece of software are pretty explicit about not circumventing security measures. Companies are within their rights to have this kind of language in their user agreements, because “if you don’t like the terms, don‘t buy the product.” The rights of user vs. company, though, are not the only reason not to jailbreak devices. Root access to your operating system/device circumvents security measures that are installed on the system which opens the floodgates for malicious attacks. One hacker in Australia created an iPhone worm called iKee that first appeared in 2009. The worm changes the iPhone’s wallpaper to a photograph of 1980’s singer Rick Astley who is known for his hit Never Gonna Give You Up (this is a common internet prank known as rickrolling). The creator of the worm said he did it to raise awareness of the issue of security*. While this worm was more annoying than harmful, it does prove that bypassing the device’s DRM opens the device to potentially dangerous viruses and worms. Several users with jailbroken devices have also noticed instability in their devices, including increased data usage, inability to restart the system, and decreased battery life.

There are a surprising (at least to me) number of students at FRCS who have jailbroken their iPads. I am not going to suggest that these students shouldn’t have done it, because that is really an issue between the student and his/her parents (assuming the parents are the ones who purchased the iPad). What I do wonder about, however, are the reasons students jailbreak their iPads, which brings us back to the question of the ethics of the process.

As with all areas of our life, our heart regarding these types of issues, or our motivations for doing them, speak volumes. The Bible tells us that where our treasure is, there is our heart also (Matthew 6:21). If our hearts are focused on the things of this world, we might jailbreak our devices to access unauthorized software that could allow access to pirated music and movies. While some try to justify this in their minds, it’s pretty clear that is stealing. We might jailbreak our devices out of pride — whether just to show that we could do it or because we believe we are not vulnerable to malicious attacks. If our hearts are focused on the treasures in heaven, however, we might jailbreak our devices for other, more practical reasons. These hearts would not give in to the temptation of stealing, and they are likely to install other security measures to prevent viruses from accessing their data or attacking their systems.

FRCS does not have a policy for student-owned iPads and jailbreaking. It is not allowed for school-owned iPads, because it involves installing software to the iPad; students are not allowed to install any software on their school-owned iPads. But there is nothing we do to stop or prevent students who own their own iPad from jailbreaking their device. At this time, there are no plans to create a policy for it. We believe it is an issue for families to address.

If you are a parent of a student with his/her own iPad, we encourage you to be in conversation with them about your expectations for the device. The school’s intention is that they be tools used for education and learning. When the parents or a student own the device, however, we cannot control what happens to or with the iPad when it’s not on campus. Talk to your kids about why they want to jailbreak their device, then talk about how you feel about voiding warranties and what consequences there might be should their device be “broken.” If you are a student, please talk to your parents before you jailbreak your device. Understand that the devices are not cheap and that there are legitimate reasons why your parents may not want you to jailbreak the device. Be aware of the risks to your data and your device. Consider the reasons you want to do it and make sure that they are not a result of “storing treasures” here on earth.


* Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-11-09/australian-admits-creating-first-iphone-virus/1135474

To learn more about jailbreaking: http://www.techhive.com/article/249091/geek_101_what_is_jailbreaking_.htmland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOS_jailbreaking

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