O2 lifts lid on iPhone, but giving an inch will not stop hackers taking a mile

With the iPhone about to go on sale in the UK, the big question is just how quickly the hackers will spoil the party and release a patch so the iPhone can be used on networks other than the official 02 network.

As in the US, 02 is giving Apple a chunk of the money it makes from subscriptions to its networks in order to help subsidise the iPhone. But as in the US, there are hackers out there who like nothing better than a challenge: in this case, to crack the restrictive codes in order to enable iPhones to work on any network.

Apple’s CEO Steve Job said at the iPhone’s launch: “It’s a cat and mouse game. People will break in, it’s our job to stop them.”

Perhaps in an attempt to at least reduce the damage, 02 has just announced that it is easing up on its policy regarding its claim of “unlimited use” of mobile data services.

Sally Cowdry, marketing director, O2 UK said: “When we announced our new iPhone tariffs back in September we broke new ground for O2, introducing unlimited use of mobile data services and The Cloud’s public Wi-Fi network. The iPhone offers the best internet on mobile experience in the market and we want customers to enjoy this without limit or worries about being charged a penny more.”

“To avoid abuse of this offering,” Cowdry said, “a fair use policy was set in place at an amount that’s miles beyond expected average use. This policy was intended to prevent commercial exploitation or using the iPhone as a modem, both of which would put everyone else’s experience at risk.”

But she explained that the firm decided it needs to go further: “We now appreciate that having set limits as part of the fair use policy conflicted with our objective of encouraging internet usage on the iPhone. People don’t speak in megabites and customer feedback has been that if we say unlimited, it should be unlimited,” she said.

She added: “We have listened to our customers and will be lifting these limits so that our original intention – for you to use your iPhone to your heart’s content – is what it’s all about with no confusion or distraction. We look forward to our customers enjoying the fantastic internet experience on their iPhone when it goes on sale next Friday.”

While it is completely fair that buyers of the iPhone are restricted to one network – 02’s – when they know up-front that that is what they get when they buy it, hackers seldom play fair. They want you to be able to buy the iPhone for a rate subsidised by 02 and then not give 02 any revenues when you use network services such as voice or data calls.

One can’t help thinking that whatever deal 02 offered for the iPhone’s network services, the hackers would still try and crack the code. They are, after all, still hackers.

As for the consumers who complain that they pay for the iPhone but are restricted to one network, I say this: get over it, or buy a different phone and music player. It’s much like the argument that the music companies should not be surprised by people burning copies of CDs, “because CDs are too expensive”. Your life does not depend on owning a CD.

If one is too expensive, do not buy it. Illegally copying CDs because they are expensive does not legitimise your breaking of the law, and the same goes for the iPhone on 02. So vote with your feet, and simply don’t buy into the iPhone if you are not prepared to pay the costs. If anything, using hacked software to run the iPhone will do less to bring down its locked-down network costs than if Apple were to realise that more consumers are put off by the lock-in, forcing them to reconsider their model altogether.

02 is giving an inch, but the hackers will continue to take a mile.

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