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Jailbreaking Ethics - Washington Tech University

Although jailbreaking an iPhone is legal in the U.S., many people still have questions about whether it’s something that can be done in good conscience and if it’s safe to do. There are a lot of factors to consider and much of it depends on your personal preference and how you plan to use your smartphone afterward. If you’re still curious about the ethics of jailbreaking, it may help to educate yourself to further understand jailbreaking and why it may be a legal grey area.

What is Jailbreaking?

For the uninitiated, jailbreaking is when a smartphone or tablet user applies specifically designed software or tools to the device’s operating system to side step or eliminate restrictions and add more customization and services to their device that go beyond the limitations provided by the original software developer. The term “jailbreak” gained popularity because, in a sense, the user is breaking out of the metaphorical “jail” of the original, restrictive operating system. 

Jailbreaking isn’t something that just any smartphone owner can do, however. The tools necessary to jailbreak an iPhone, for example, are incredibly complex and developed by skilled hackers with in-depth knowledge of the software used in the operating system. Irreparable damage can be done in some cases if jailbreaking is attempted using inadequate software or without the proper programming and installation knowledge.

The Legal Issue

Jailbreaking is still illegal in countries that have laws protecting digital rights management mechanisms. As of 2010, jailbreaking is legally protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States. The DMCA established that since jailbreaking doesn’t infringe on the software developer’s copyright holding, but more so side steps it, the activity is exempt.1

Certain countries take jailbreaking more seriously. Canada’s copyright act, for example, prohibits tampering with digital locks to run alternative software. However, Australia, India, New Zealand and the U.K. all have laws similar to the U.S. in place, establishing circumvention of digital locks for non-copyright infringing purposes as exempt.2

Software developers naturally don’t approve of the current legal standing, and thus have taken actions to dissuade users from jailbreaking their devices. Apple, for example, denies repairs to anyone who has unauthorized software on their device.  The tech company has also spent the better part of the last decade releasing a number of software updates specifically designed to prevent jailbreaking. There have been more than 10 such updates since 2010.3

Pros and Cons of Jailbreaking


There are a variety of reasons people jailbreak their devices. Having access to third-party and custom apps is a big reason for many. Cydia, which was released to the public in 2008 and quickly became a revolutionary part of jailbreaking history, is an entire non-Apple marketplace that’s still available today, offering countless third-party apps.4

Another user-focused benefit to jailbreaking a device is that many apps that usually require payment are available for free. Hackers simply modify the apps and reproduce them in the jailbreak marketplace for users to download free of charge. Obviously, ethics do come into play here, as the user is downloading pirated software, which is illegal.

Users also often jailbreak their phone so they can remove apps that automatically come with the device, commonly called “bloatware” in the tech world. Jailbreaking lets device owners start fresh with a blank canvas so they can completely customize their device to their liking.


Of course, like many things, jailbreaking comes with its fair share of downsides as well. For instance, consider that apps and software used in jailbreaking are not regulated in any way. Users with a jailbroken device are downloading apps and other software that could easily come with malware or other harmful hacking software.

Several years ago, iPhone malware distributed through a Cydia third-party repository stole 225,000 Apple IDs and passwords. After being installed, the malware stored credentials and made unauthorized purchases in iTunes and the Apple App Store.5 These types of security risks are much more prevalent with jailbroken devices than they are when going through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, both of which have strict regulations on what they will sell and provide to users.

As mentioned previously, Apple and other software developers are vehemently against jailbreaking the devices they manufacture. Users who opt to jailbreak an iPhone, for example, often void of their warranties and user agreements. Apple Tech Geniuses will not help them repair a phone that’s been jailbroken.

You Can Help Create a Safer Digital Future

Despite its legal status, jailbreaking is still a questionable act to many consumers. To some, the cons outweigh the pros, and the thought of pirated and potentially dangerous software being so readily available is concerning. To others, jailbreaking is a victimless crime when used safely and responsibly. Regardless of where you stand, if the thought of diving deep into the digital world to provide new and exciting features for others interests you, perhaps you should consider a career in information technology.

Washington Technology University is accepting applications for its bachelor of science in Information Technology degree program. If you’re looking to make a difference in a rewarding and fast-growing field, contact WTU by calling (425) 223-5812 or visit us online to get started today!



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