The Apple is still rotten: Why you should avoid the new iPhone

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by Georgia Young Published on Sep 12, 2017 03:11 PM
Today Apple announced the arrival of several new iPhone models and other updated gadgets. As usual, the phones were revealed with great fanfare — but from the glass exterior down to its guts, the new iPhone is just another freedom-restricting trap for unsuspecting users.

We get it: people like technology that they believe is easy to use, and costly, flashy-looking smartphones have become status symbols for many. The trouble is that the cost of owning an iPhone is even higher than the new iPhone’s hefty $1000 USD price tag.

Here are four reasons to avoid the new iPhone (and all things iOS):

The iPhone despises free software

While Apple is happy to make use of free software to construct its operating system, almost all of the software distributed with its devices is proprietary. Apple’s refusal to release its source code violates your freedom to study, modify, and distribute software. Apple may claim to care about your privacy and security, but unless you can inspect Apple’s source code, you have no way of verifying whether they’re really looking out for you. And unless you have the right to install third-party or modified versions of the software on your device, you have no way to protect yourself when they aren’t.

Apple loves DRM

Apple products, including the iPhone, are shackled with Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). Despite the fact that DRM restricts your freedom, preventing you from using computers as you please, Apple works hard to restrict you, even going so far as to argue that the anti-circumvention provisions of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal to tinker with an iPhone for any reason, should remain in place. Even Steve Jobs’s opportunistic 2007 essay arguing against DRM has mysteriouly disappeared from Apple’s Web site. They have a history of using demonization, concern trolling, and false claims about security to justify this.

Apple is lawsuit-happy — especially regarding software patents

Apple has often ended up embroiled in lawsuits, both as plaintiff and defendant, and has several times unleashed their massive legal team on other smartphone creators, including suing HTC for allegedly infringing on multiple software patents relating to the iPhone in 2010, and spending the last six years battling Samsung in massive litigation encompassing more than 50 lawsuits worldwide covering a variety of alleged violations, including that of some Apple software patents. Some of these cases drag on today.

We’ve written extensively about how these lawsuits could hurt free software, causing free software developers to shy away from any ideas that might expose them to a patent infringement lawsuit. The FSF advocates for the elimination of all software patents.

Apple has worked hard to take away their customers’ right to repair

Many people like to tinker with things they own, to understand how they work, modify them in ways that make them more useful, or to extend their usefulness through repair. Though the four freedoms of free software do not encompass hardware, restriction of the right to repair often goes hand in hand with nonfree code, and Apple is a prime example.

Apple leads the charge among technology companies when it comes to removing your right to repair, through physical changes to their products and by lobbying for laws that make it illegal for you to modify devices that you own. Apple’s physical changes include using non-standard screws and tools for their products, making it extremely difficult to open them up to examine, repair, or replace parts. Its legal efforts include attempting to kill a “Fair Repair” bill introduced by farmers and independent repair shops in Nebraska earlier this year. These measures by Apple negatively impact free software developers trying to reverse engineer support, or make modifications to the hardware that would allow free software to run on the devices.

Apple’s encryption is not trustworthy

In 2016, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tried to force Apple to help it unlock an iPhone 5c used by a person believed to have staged a terrorist attack in California. While it is good that Apple did not create a wide open general backdoor for the FBI which could’ve been exploited by others and for other purposes, they still conceal their encryption practices, so users cannot discern what’s happening under the glass or verify Apple’s claims.

Part of Apple’s security efforts include preventing unauthorized firmware from being installed on a device by verifying that all firmware updates are signed with a trusted key — but the trusted key is Apple’s, not yours. That means Apple is ultimately deciding what is “authorized” firmware — you cannot. True security in the long term comes only from completely free software, and as security developer Matthew Garret argues, “If Apple genuinely value user privacy over Apple’s control of a device” they should “allow users to remove Apple’s validation keys and substitute their own.”

What can you do instead?

We don’t have a freedom-respecting drop-in replacement for the iPhone. Apple’s government-subsidized DRM and massive legal intimidation team make developing and distributing a freedom-respecting smartphone very difficult. But we are nonetheless getting closer. You can have a solid, basic smartphone today by running Replicant, a free software version of Android. You can install it yourself on supported models, or buy one pre-installed from Technoethical. You can give the Replicant project a boost, and help them to implement missing features, by donating. Also, check out F-Droid, an app repository of exclusively free software for Android.

Keep an eye on the Purism phone crowdfunding campaign — they haven’t yet fully committed, but they are trying very hard to provide a phone whose hardware does not require any proprietary software, and won’t be locked down. If they do make such an announcement, you should support them as much as you can.

Don’t buy any iOS device, and let Tim Cook at Apple know why you won’t.

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