Paul Sakuma/AP

Palm Opts for Diplomacy Over Force in Dealing with Hackers

June 17, 2009 02:30 PM
by Anne Szustek
Palm “politely” warned hacker group Pre Dev Wiki not to unlock functionality banned by provider Sprint. Does this mark a new era in hacker-tech company relations?

Palm No Longer Tethered

Smartphone and PDA maker Palm issued what SlashGear called a “polite” dictum to would-be hackers of its Palm Pre phone and the company’s new operating system, WebOS. Palm notified the group Pre Dev Wiki that the company would have to intervene legally on the behalf of Sprint, should the hackers continue to unlock the phone’s “tethering” ability, which adds mobile wireless functionality to the phone. Doing so is a breach of the phone’s contract with the service provider.
In response, the Palm Dev Wiki group took down Palm Pre hacking tips from its online forums and stated its intent “to retain a good relationship with Palm,” as PC World quoted them.

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Related Topic: Apple and iPhone hackers: working toward an accord?

Does Palm’s laissez-faire strategy in dealing with hackers mean a corner has been turned in how tech providers deal with their “armchair innovators?” Perhaps it does, argues PC World, at least when compared to how Apple has dealt with hackers working on the company’s iPhone. Hackers face legal battles from Apple on two fronts: for unlocking the phone for use by cell phone carriers other than AT&T and “jailbreaking,” developing code that permits the download of unauthorized third-party applications.

Individual phone owners were already granted the freedom to unlock their phone under a three-year exemption issued in November 2006 under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but it’s still not clear whether hacker groups and companies can sell software to third parties to unlock phones. BusinessWeek wrote in 2007 that Apple and AT&T were likely to use a line in the DMCA stating “no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title,” to legally shut down cell phone unlocking for profit.

Later versions of the iPhone have software beefed up against potential hacks. In addition, Macworld reported in 2008 that Apple has sought to bring software designers into the fold by releasing an iPhone Software Development Kit. The kit allows programmers to design official applications that could potentially go into the iPhone App store. Last year, Apple also began actively recruiting “iPhone Security Engineers,” whom Wired likened to “the dork equivalent of the FBI hiring an inmate to infiltrate a gang of criminals.”

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