The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked the U.S. Copyright Office to exempt tablet and video game console jailbreaking from Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provisions and asked vendors to stop opposing the practice.
Jailbreaking, also known as rooting or chip modding (depending on the device it takes place on), refers to the bypassing of restrictions built in by manufacturers to prevent the installation of unauthorized software.
All popular platforms, whether it’s Apple’s iOS, Sony’s PS3, Microsoft’s Xbox, or Google’s Android, have strong jailbreaking communities built around them with independent developers often releasing innovative content that enhances the user experience.
However, most manufacturers discourage this software freedom-of-choice philosophy and often use legal and technological means to prevent jailbreaking from becoming widespread.
EFF’s efforts to get jailbreaking added to the list of DMCA exemptions began three years ago and resulted in a ruling from the U.S. Copyright Office clarifying that bypassing iPhone protections in order to run so-called homebrew software is not a violation of copyright laws.
However, the EFF wants this exemption expanded to cover other devices as well. “Technology has evolved over the last three years, and so it’s important to expand these exemptions to cover the real-world uses of smartphones, tablets, video game consoles, DVDs, and video downloads,” the organization said in a statement last week.
The digital rights watchdog called on device manufacturers like Apple, Sony and Microsoft to stop opposing jailbreaking and embrace it for its benefits. Innovation, privacy and security enhancements are among EFF’s pro-jailbreaking arguments.
“In an era of increased worries about privacy on mobile devices, the jailbreaking community has also been vital in securing users’ privacy when manufacturers won’t,” EFF activist Trevor Timm said in a blog post. “Security fixes developed by the jailbreaking community protect smartphone users when the manufacturer is slow to fix vulnerabilities or doesn’t fix them at all,” he added.
Unfortunately, while there are many examples of custom security features developed by the jailbreaking community, this kind of software freedom also has its downfalls, security experts say.
“If jailbreaking or rooting gains more popularity, it may lead to an increasing number of malware and attacks,” said Denis Maslennikov a senior malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab who specializes in mobile threats.
Jailbreaking facilitates access to low-level operating system functions and this kind of exposure can be exploited by malware writers. The decision to jailbreak a device should not be taken lightly and requires knowledge that not every user has, Maslennikov explained.
One of the worst-case scenarios if jailbreaking becomes widespread is for a popular non-vendor-approved application to malfunction and crash hundreds of thousands of devices. It is impossible to force vendors, who may officially support jailbreaking/rooting, to support all third-party applications, Maslennikov said.
Updated at 1:20 p.m. PT to clarify the timing of an EFF statement.