Today’s menu: Podcaster, Pwnage and iPhone security

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View
On today's menu is a trio of comments regarding recent news items:

Podcaster and Apple's "success"

Yesterday, the Observer reported that "Apple has rejected an iPhone app, Podcaster, on the basis that it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes. The author is greatly annoyed, as are some other developers and observers. Apple might even be on shaky legal grounds."

It was just a few days earlier that I had expressed my concerns about the potential downsides of Apple becoming "too successful." One of my concerns was that "you can't download any third-party software {from the App Store} for your iPhone or touch unless Apple first approves the software."

The problem here is that Apple's basis for approval may simply derive from its own self-interest. This Podcaster controversy is a perfect example of how Apple's tight rein can wind up at odds with consumers' and developers' interests. Apple should not be blocking an application such as Podcaster simply because they view it as competition, especially so when the guidelines to developers do not clearly state this as a prohibition.

PwnageTool 2.1: That didn't take long

PwnageTool is a utility for jailbreaking an iPhone or iPod touch. Last week, the Observer reported that "that iTunes 8 included changes that...combat...the PwnageTool exploit." The developers of PwnageTool claimed that they would soon be able to work around these changes. They have already done so, and without having to patch iTunes (something they feared might have been necessary). I can confirm that the newest versions of PwnageTool and QuickPwn can successfully jailbreak devices running Apple's latest 2.1 updates and syncing with iTunes 8.

At this point, I simply don't understand why Apple continues to waste its time and resources on this cat-and-mouse game. Nevermind that they keep losing the battle. Why even bother? They've already made it clear that you jailbreak an iPhone at your own risk, voiding your warranty at a minimum. If I still want to take the risk, so I can run Terminal or OpenSSH (or whatever) on my iPhone, why should Apple interfere? If Apple simply let jailbreakers play in their own sandbox, without trying to stop them, it would be better for both sides.

Breaking into an iPhone

Last week, the Observer, citing Jonathan Zdziarski, noted that the "iPhone takes its own screen shots as an internal programming aid." They are created to allow the zooming effect when opening or closing an app.

By itself, the screen shots are not a problem. The potential problem occurs if and when your iPhone falls into the hands of an unscrupulous hacker.

As it happens, I attended a recent Webcast where Mr. Zdziarski discussed this matter. He demonstrated how a knowledgeable user can break into an iPhone, even one that is password-protected, in a matter of minutes. It was a bit scary to see. After breaking in, the hacker can easily access the aforementioned screenshots (as they are saved to the iPhone's hard drive). Although not very likely, these screen shots could contain confidential data.

Mr. Zdziarski focused on the value of this access to law enforcement, allowing recovery of potentially incriminating evidence from suspected criminals. However, I believe Mr. Zdziarski was being a bit disingenuous here. I suspect that these techniques are much more likely to be used illegally -- on stolen iPhones.

You needn't be too concerned here. There's no risk to your iPhone as long as you maintain physical possession of it. And even if you lose your phone, it's unlikely that it will ever be subject to this sort of hacking. Still, if you keep confidential data on your iPhone, you may want to rethink this decision.

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8 Comments Leave Your Own

Ted Landau

I posted the following as a comment to another TMO article, but thought it applied here as well, re the Podcaster issue. Here goes:

One thing that I don’t entirely get is why so many users give Apple a pass regarding the iPhone that would never give regarding the Mac. For example, I keep seeing comments such as “It’s Apple’s iPhone. If they want to restrict what apps go on it, that’s their business. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy an iPhone. Buy something else instead.”

Aside from the fact that these sort of comments work to shut down any criticism (much like “America, love it or leave it”), imagine Apple trying to pull the same stunt with the Mac (assuming there was a way for them to do so): “I’m sorry, you can’t use TextWrangler on your Mac because Apple views it as competition for our own TextEdit.” I seriously doubt Apple would have any defenders here.
——-

DaveS

I would also add that it’s not “Apple’s Phone”. After you buy it, you own it. It’s AT&T’s network that you are “leasing”, but the phone itself is yours.

I’m not a lawyer, but that’s the way I see it.

Bill Helsabeck

Quote: The problem here is that Apple?s basis for approval may simply derive from its own self-interest.

Just what in the world is wrong with this? Apple’s first duty is to itself. iTunes IS, after all, their platform. Check out this rebuttal opinion.

http://www.roughlydrafted.com/2008/09/16/banned-iphone-apps-and-the-john-gruber-podcaster-defense/

JB

[quote comment=“3957”]I would also add that it’s not “Apple’s Phone”. After you buy it, you own it. It’s AT&T’s network that you are “leasing”, but the phone itself is yours.

I’m not a lawyer, but that’s the way I see it.


Ahhh, but here’s the rub. If your iPhone (or any phone for that matter) is a subsidized phone (like in AT&T’s discounted 3G iPhone I bought) then technically speaking until you fulfill that contract you haven’t actually bought the phone.  You put down a payment and continue to make payments until the phone is paid for.

Just my 2 cents!!

Ted Landau
[quote comment=“3959”]Quote: The problem here is that Apple?s basis for approval may simply derive from its own self-interest.” Just what in the world is wrong with this? Apple’s first duty is to itself.

I guess the question is how much should Apple’s self-interest be allowed to determine what I can put on an iPhone after I purchase it? If I purchase a Sony DVD player, I don’t expect Sony to be able to dictate what DVDs I can or cannot play on it, regardless of whether or not it would be in their self-interest to do so.

Backpedaling a bit, I AM sympathetic to the argument that an app that uses network bandwidth may be an exception. Apple should be able to exercise some control here.

Michael Teuber

Ted, my memory goes back to 1983-84 and the Lisa and Macintosh introductions. The Lisa shipped with only (basically) Apple software, but it was _good_ software. The Macintosh shipped with two good Apple programs, but the third party stuff was usually pretty awful, being copied from systems that were command line not desktop metaphor oriented. Personally I bought a Macintosh to use Mac-like software, I wish I had the option then to buy software that supported a seamless ‘Mac’ experience the way Lisa 7/7 software did on the Lisa. So frankly I would give Apple a pass if they applied the App Store to Mac software as well.

As for shutting down debate, sometimes no means no. As in ‘No, I don’t want to sleep with you, no I don’t want to discuss it, and if you don’t like it go bother someone else.’

With DVDs I thought you couldn’t even play DVDs in a different part of the world (zone) than you bought them. Here it is not just Sony but the whole content creation industry dictating what (and where) you can play on your Sony DVD player.

Finally why is security not explored by those speculating on Apple’s motives? The apps that are usually offered as being just like Podcaster, either do not download files to the iPhone or download from the users own computer. Perhaps Apple is simply concerned that users will not perceive a distinction between downloading a file from a random blogsite and the iTunes Music Store. This could be exploited to introduce malware. Since Apple loses money every time someone downloads a free podcast, if fear of losing money were the motive, surely Apple would write Podcaster a nice thank you note rather than a rejection?

trrll

[quote comment=“3957”]I would also add that it’s not “Apple’s Phone”. After you buy it, you own it. It’s AT&T’s network that you are “leasing”, but the phone itself is yours.

I’m not a lawyer, but that’s the way I see it.

I think that this is correct. However, you are not legally entitled to have your cake and eat it to. Apple and AT&T are under no obligation to make it easy to jailbreak phones or to provide phone, repair, or other services to jailbroken phones.

I don’t think that Apple really expects to stop jailbreaks. By locking out jailbroken phones with every update, the provide a minor discouragement to casual jailbreaking, and also make it clear that Apple is not implicitly encouraging jailbreaking—which might become an issue of owners of jailbroken phones try to demand repair or other services—and to protect Apple from potential liability if apps on jailbroken phones compromise security and result in financial or other losses.

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