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Owning versus controlling hardware

The Register recently wrote about how the latest firmware in Android phones tries to un-jailbreak them. Most smart phones contain built-in features to restrict the types of software they run. The built-in iPhone software restricts it to AT&T and to apps sold by Apple's own store. Blackberry and Android has similar restrictions."Jailbreaking" bypasses these protections to allow the phone's owner to install un-approved software. Android is fighting back in real time.

AT&T system logoSo the battle is on: who really controls a phone, or any other computer-based device? Most of us assume we control our personal computers. But phones are ambiguous. We want them to work reliably as phones, so we're willing to give up some control to the phone company. Back when US phones were an AT&T monopoly, we rented everything: from the network to the wiring to the indestructible desktop handsets.

On the other hand, we buy our cell phones. In AT&T's glory days, the Bell System never sold telephones, they only rented them. As owners, shouldn't we be able to choose the software to run, or the phone company to use?

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