Another Pop Quiz: Apple, Pimple Popper Lite and Reading Your Wife's E-Mail. What Do These Have In Common?

Pop quiz, hotshot! (Using the same Speed reference in two posts.  You would think it's the only DVD we have.)

What is the common element among Apple, an app called Pimple Popper and a guy in Michigan that read his wife's e-mail?  The answer is that they have all been accused of violating computer security laws. 

Of course, there's more to the story.

First, let's visit the Michigan defendant.  The guy in question was in the throes of a divorce.  He had suspicions regarding his wife's monogamous instincts.  She kept her passwords in a notebook (dead tree variety) next to a computer that was shared by the couple.  He "hacked" her account by opening the notebook, finding her password and using it to access her gmail account.  Supposedly he found that she was in fact, having an affair with her second ex-husband.  Our hero is hubbie number 3.  Hubbie number 2 (the one now getting the action) had been convicted of beating the wife in question in front of her child (the progeny of hubbie number 1).  Still with me?  Our hero (hubbie number 3) was concerned about the possibility of continued abuse and took the information he found to hubbie number 1.  The wife, of course, found out, contacted the prosecuting attorney and hubbie number 3 (our hero) is now charged with violating the following statute:

"A person shall not intentionally and without authorization...Access a computer, computer system or computer network to acquire...or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network."  Michigan Statute 752.795

The prosecutor's justification is that the defendant is a computer technician and he used his "skills" like a hacker to access the e-mail.  Violation of this statute in Michigan is a felony with a potential jail term of five years.

What of Apple and the Pimple Poppers?

This week, a number of defendants were sued in the Northern District of California.  The defendants include the makers of the iPhone apps: Testplus4, Pandora, Paper Toss, Weather Channel, Dictionary.com, Talking Tom Cat, Pimple Popper Lite and Pumpkin Maker and of course, Apple because the plaintiffs claim that Apple approves all of these apps through the inspection process of the App Store.  The suit further claims that all of these apps take advantage of the UDID (Uniform Device Identifier) and pass information like location, etc. along to advertisers without the user's knowledge.  Since the UDID is given to each device and can't be changed it works much better in this regard than cookies.

Along with a request for damages and other stuff, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants have violated a California statute (Penal Code 502[c]) that penalizes someone who "...knowingly accesses and without permission ... uses any data, computer, computer system or computer network in order to ... wrongfully control or obtain any money, property or data."

For those of you that are our Texas brethren, there is a Texas statute that makes it a Class B misdemeanor to: "...knowingly access a computer, computer network, or computer system without the effective consent of the owner" (Penal Code 33.02) if the amount of money involved is less than $1,500 or nothing at all.  The offense gets progressively worse if bigger amounts of money are involved and goes to a first degree felony if the amount exceeds $200,000.

So, we have iPhone apps, the big Apple mothership itself and a jilted husband ostensibly seeking to protect a child that could all be possibly implicated under any of these statutes. 

Too much?  None of this is final yet.  Stay tuned.

Apple Patent Could Remotely Disable Jailbroken iPhones

After a ruling last month by the Library of Congress that jailbreaking cellphones, such as Apple's iPhone, was an exception to the DMCA, many users who didn't want to be tied to Apple's network and app restrictions rejoiced.  However, that freedom could be short lived.  A recently published patent application by Apple describes a system that seeks to identify "hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking, or removal of a SIM card."  According to the application, Apple could combat this by remotely examining for unauthorized use.  Some the measures Apple could take include:

  • keylogs
  • screenshots
  • deleting "sensitive data" (yikes!)
  • surreptitiously activating the cell phone's camera (double yikes!)

The purpose of this system is to protect consumers from "unauthorized users."  It's possible that Apple will consider users of jailbroken phones "unauthorized" based on this statement from the application describing the system:

An activity that can detect an unauthorized user can be any action that may indicate the electronic device is being tampered with by being, for example, hacked, jailbroken, or unlocked.

It's unclear whether Apple will ever actually implement these measures, but the Orwellian methods of detecting unauthorized use is a little disconcerting to say the least. 

App Developers Need to Pay Attention to the DMCA Ruling on Jailbreaking the iPhone

A recent ruling by the Library of Congress on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) resulted in large changes for cell phone users. The Copyright ruling spoke to several issues on circumvention, but for our discussion today, we shall discuss jailbreaking. Jailbreaking is the process of bypassing cell phone software allowing the user to purchase cell phone applications other than ones required by the cell phone manufacturer (here’s some info on the subject). This ruling has large implications in the app development community and could change the face of apps and cell phones … or according to others - do nothing.

First, when I was discussing this with some friends of mine the first question most had was, “Say what?! Why is the Library of Congress speaking on jailbreaking and who gave them authority? How is jailbreaking a Copyright issue?” So before I go into an analysis of the ruling, a quick rundown of the logistics of this might be in order.

The Library of Congress governs the United States Copyright office (it’s actually a division of the Library of Congress), and as such the Librarian of Congress discusses certain rules from time to time. Okay?! But this still doesn’t answer why this is a Copyright issue. In 1996 there were treaties passed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the DMCA is the implementation of those treaties. These treaties covered several aspects of IP law, but for this post the relevant area of the treaties implemented into the DMCA dealt with the prohibition of circumvention of technology measures that control access to copyrighted works. In other words, this gave the Copyright office the ability to govern technologies on cell phones that protected copyrighted works, such as applications. As a result, the Librarian of Congress can determine if things such as jailbreaking of phones should be legal or not.

The Librarian of Congress, stated jailbreaking a cell phone was an exception to the general rule of prohibiting people from circumventing certain Copyright protection technologies. Namely, you can jailbreak the iPhone and buy “non-App Store” apps for it. The ruling states:

“Persons who circumvent access controls in order to engage in noninfringing uses of works in these six classes will not be subject to the statutory prohibition against circumvention.

(2) Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.”

 

Therefore, you can bypass certain iPhone access controls if you are going to legally purchase a non-Apple application for your iPhone.

As you can imagine, Apple doesn’t want this to happen for multiple reasons, and they are doing much to ensure the ruling has no effect on the app market. First, Apple states that if a user jailbreaks the iPhone they will breach their end-user license agreement (EULA). This breach would relieve Apple from its obligation to provide a warranty, repairs, and anything stated in the agreement. Additionally, Apple will continue to develop updates of its software attempting to outsmart the jailbreak engineers. There will be a continuous back and forth of Apple updates and the soon to follow jailbreaking updates. As a result, it might make the process too difficult for the end user keeping them from jailbreaking the phone. But currently that doesn’t seem to be the case. A developer going by the name Comex has been flooded with so much interest in the new Jailbreakme 2.0 software, his site is crashing from too much traffic. I have spoken with some app developers that believe ultimately the consumer will not want to risk losing the warranty, so most things won’t change. However, what occurs when the warranty runs out?

It’s no secret that Apple has a significant market share in the cell phone and application market. The Android markets have been gaining ground, but Apple still maintains a solid position in the market. Prior to this ruling, the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad were all limited to apps from the iTunes App Store. The popularity of these products fuels application development to be more Apple based. Currently, if you are developer, you are going to develop for Apple first and then the Android or other platforms second (if at all). Now that the powers that be say no violation occurs when jailbreaking your iPhone, other application sites will undoubtedly begin to arise. Getjar, an application site already in existence, is about to hit 1 billion downloads. However, iTunes has almost three times as many applications and Apple has stated that they have already surpassed the 5 billion downloaded apps milestone producing over a billion dollars for app developers (leaving Apple with $300 million).  Creating a market others will want to cut into. This ruling will no doubt assist in the loss of significant application market share.

Apple makes its money off the iPhone, but how much will the new app markets affect the purchasing of the iPhone? I recently wrote about Apple’s firm position in governing its operating systems and the type of code and applications that would be submitted. Apple believes that flash is a poor system and that it frustrates the Apple OS, so flash products cannot be utilized in app development for Apple. However, flash is not the only restriction with Apple (percentage of sales, procedure of approval, etc.). If other markets begin to lure other developers away from the Apple market higher quality applications will be developed and be sold at other app stores

So what will be the repercussions of new application sites? I assume with the creation of several application sites new license agreements will arise. The freedom to negotiate price, term, programming platforms, etc. will affect how licensing is accomplished in this arena. Although many other outcomes will arise from this ruling, one issue developers will face is how they go about licensing their applications. There won’t be the standard app development agreement as the only option anymore. Competition should likely create flexibility in these otherwise strict agreements. Therefore in developing apps, the creators should begin to realize the popularity of the application could be beneficial for the new app store itself and provide options to the now standard boilerplate agreements.  

Love the iPhone but Hate AT&T?

Do you love your iPhone but despise the spotty problems that come with AT&T's service?  Well, you may have to wait awhile longer.  As we discussed previously, the FTC complaint that Adobe filed against Apple in regards to its alleged anti-competitive practices forced Apple to admit in a pleading that the original exclusivity agreement with AT&T was for five years; lasting until 2012. 

Now, many caveats apply.  Foremost is that these agreements are frequently re-negotiated, and it's quite possible that is the case here.  Industry experts are speculating that the deal was probably re-negotiated since the iPad comes with a below market rate data plan with AT&T.  That's tough news for companies like Verizon (the mobile carrier with the highest customer satisfaction ratings) who has been itching to get into the iPhone service provider game. 

So where does that leave us?  We will most likely find out more at the World Wide Developers Conference starting June 7 where Apple has unveiled previous iPhone incarnations.  Stay tuned. 

Adobe-Apple Feud Frustrates App Development

Apple has recently changed their license agreement to exclude Flash language programs and Flash to iPhone Compilers. This has created a great deal of buzz in the app development world. The i-Phone Developer Program License Agreement set out by Apple was modified to exclude such Flash related programs when the agreement was edited to include:

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

This added language has caused an uproar in the app development community. As John Gruber, at Daring Fireball explains,“… cross compilers, such as the Flash to iPhone Compiler in Adobe’s upcoming Flash Professional CS5 release, are prohibited."

Depending on your involvement with apps, this ultimately means that all the apps that use Flash or intend to use Flash will either be discontinued or changed.

Most of the apps using Flash are video game apps, which is a market that is growing quite rapidly. According to CNet news, the portable gaming market is around a 10 Billion Dollar industry and Apple made $500 million off it last year - up significantly from $115 million in 2008. The list of affected apps is not insubstantial and includes some of the top selling apps at iTunes such as Monopoly, Simpsons Arcade, Skeeball, and it is even rumored that Tap Tap Revolution was partially written in the violating Lua Programming language (click here for entire list). It is unknown how much revenue these particular games bring in, but it is a bold move for Apple to potentially hinder their growth in this market in order to exclude such programming language.

Steve Jobs’ response to this change is relayed to the public in the Tao Effect blog, stating “We’ve been there before, and intermediate layers between the platform and the developer ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform.” However, as the author also continues, what will Apple do with the now restricted apps already in existence utilizingMonoTouchLua,NimbleKit or Unity3D (non-Apple sanctioned tools that allow developers to code for the iPhone in non-C languages). Will they continue selling these apps? Will they be forced to alter their code?

As some of you know, Adobe and Apple have not been on good terms for awhile, and this is just the latest in the battle between the two companies. Although a harsh change in contract language, some developers and bloggers, such as, Pascal-Emmanuel Groby with the Business Insider are curious if the change is illegal? According to sjvn at IT World, in his article Adobe vs. Apple is going to get uglier, a lawsuit is already in the works. No mention to what the actual claims would be, the folks at Geek-news and IT World believe Apple would likely be facing some anti-trust claims. With such deep pockets on both sides, a clear judgment would likely take a serious amount of time to resolve. As a result, it will be very interesting to see how developers react initially. With several Austinites and Austin-based companies focusing on app development, our local tech community will undoubtedly have an impact on the language app developers continue to use.