Jailbroken iPhones Could Mean Trouble For Enterprise IT
By Tony Kontzer The U.S. Copyright Office's decision this week to loosen a few provisions of the wrong-headed Digital Millenium Copyright Act has raised some interesting issues for those using (and managing the use of) smart phones, most notably the iPhone.
Among the steps the Copyright Office took -- which included allowing clips from DVDs to be copied and republished online, and permitting consumers to unlocking cell phones to switch carriers -- was a potentially wide-reaching decision to allow "jailbreaking," a practice that enables unapproved applications to run on cell phones.
My first reaction to this was how woefully un-geeky I am: I had no idea what jailbreaking was. My second thought was: "Yay! Another chink in Apple's armor!" (Credit the Electronic Frontier Foundation for that.) My third thought was: how will this affect the world of corporate technology? And I believe it could have a significant impact.
Let's start with companies that either issue or support iPhones (and let's face it, this jailbreaking allowance directly -- if not intentionally -- targets the iPhone). If your company has issued iPhones to employees, particularly the tinkerers on your IT staff, you should be well aware that even though the Copyright Office's action appears to shield jailbreakers from legal action, Apple can still void iPhone warranties for phones that have been altered.
If you're an IT exec who has green-lighted the use of iPhones to access corporate information, whether you've supplied the phones or not, the idea that your employees can tinker with their phones and start downloading apps that haven't been blessed by Apple's all-powerful App Store might be a bit disconcerting. It means no one has determined whether said apps might exchange data with other apps. This is a loophole that could, in the eyes of some IT folks, represent a pretty disconcerting security issue. (Apple opposed the Copyright Office's ruling, citing its desire to ensure that iPhone users enjoy a superior experience by requiring apps to through the company's approval process before being made available in its App Store.)
Okay, those are the negatives. For a more positive spin, we can look at it from a developer perspective. Any company that is building iPhone apps for its customers -- and find me one that isn't --has one less barrier to getting its apps out there. Not being part of the App Store shouldn't hinder the perception of an app, especially when even approved apps sometimes prove to be less than foolproof, as is the case with a tragically flawed consumer iPhone app published by none other than Citigroup.
On the consumer side, this whole development is clearly a big win for iPhone users, who are now free to use their phone as they wish, without Big Brother Jobs watching them. For corporate technology decision makers, however, it is more of a mixed bag, and one that these executives might want to study closely before taking their next step on the iPhone path. You might decide this whole jailbreaking thing is a lot of hoopla over nothing; then again, you might not.