A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither, said Thomas Jefferson a couple of centuries ago. This is a tech blog, so why the heck am I bringing this up? Because Verizon’s recent letter to the FTC reminded me that the old “liberty or protection” false dilemma is still used (successfully) to trick us into putting up with all kinds of things, from airport pat downs to, yes, locked smartphones.
But enough with the philosophy! Here’s what happened. A DroidLife reader and Verizon Wireless customer sent a formal complaint (based on a perceived breach of the licensing agreement between FCC and VZW) to the FCC, objecting on Big Red’s practice of selling devices with blocked bootloaders. Verizon responded to the formal inquiry with a letter to the FCC, in which it explains its position concerning bootloaders.
This is newsworthy because, up until now, Verizon kept quiet about the reasoning behind its bootloader locking practice. Big Red remained unfazed even when Motorola, the last big Android manufacturer to lock bootloaders, has implied that it locks devices at the request of carriers (read Verizon). So it’s interesting to see how Verizon plays defense when it comes to this thorny issue.
Verizon’s arguments in a nutshell: we do it to protect consumers. Come everybody, a warm round of applause for Verizon! The carrier claims that its “standard of excellence” in serving customers can only be maintained if all devices are shipped securely locked. This prevents, according to the analyst that sent the letter on behalf of VZW, the supposed negative impact that boot loaded phones have on the cellular network, and even the wireless experience for the other users. In essence, Verizon claims the hassle of supporting boot loaded devices affects its service for all customers, so it chose not to support it at all.
In other words, give up your right to use your device the way you see fit, and we’ll make it worth it for you.
The surprisingly vague (for a formal answer to a FCC inquiry) letter leaves many questions unanswered. Is Verizon the one to blame for the locked bootloader problem? Does this make Motorola innocent? Or maybe is a mutually beneficial agreement between Motorola and Verizon to keep Droids locked? And why doesn’t Verizon lock all of its devices? For instance, the Galaxy Nexus, and many other smartphones from HTC, Samsung, or LG come unlocked.
What do you think?