Hackulous: iPhone Pirates

On the eve of the iPhone 4 jailbreak by the iPhone Dev Team, and with the recent positive rulings over jailbreaking’s legality, concerns over the purpose and impact of opening Apple’s line of iOS devices still exist. Dissident from Hackulous explains why he believes piracy does not ruin the image of jailbreaking, and gives insight into the real effects piracy has on application developers.

Last Monday the U.S. Copyright Officeruled that jailbreaking an iPhone or other mobile device does not constitute a violation of federal copyright law.

The timing of this announcement is perfect, as rumors persist that the iPhone 4/iOS 4.x jailbreak will be released today. As soon as it does, many hundreds of thousands of owners will rush to carry out the procedure which will allow them to run 3rd party software on their device completely legally.

Of course, free pirate copies of material otherwise available from the App Store also become available, largely through the Installous app which is installed via Cydia, a piece of software included in the jailbreak package.

Installous is developed by the Hackulous community which is run by guy called Dissident. TorrentFreak hands you over to him for the rest of this article.

Guest article from Dissident of Hackulo.us and apptrackr – undoubtedly the web’s largest resource for cracked iPhone Apps.

Firstly, I would like to thank TorrentFreak for giving me this opportunity to publish this article on their website. My name is Dissident, and I am an administrator of a website called Hackulous — an online community which has, for the last two years, been working to circumvent the DRM on Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad products.

Apple has always been very stringent regarding what programs can be run on these devices. These products are distributed with a tightly locked down operating system and are forced to work only with Apple-approved software available on the iTunes App Store. Since the beginning, even before the advent of Apple’s portable iDevice product line, “jailbreaking” has been the attempt of talented reverse engineers to find ways to exploit the devices. The goal is to break out of the software jail imposed by the operating systems, so as to run any kind of software that users want on their devices.

Jailbreaking the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad is no different. Several millions of owners of Apple’s devices have used jailbreaking to push the boundaries of what is possible with their devices. Installer (now defunct), Cydia, Icy (also defunct), and Rock are well-known examples of distribution centers that jailbroken devices can access to obtain homebrew applications that really add a lot to the overall experience.

For example, Winterboard, the application that allows theming of the iDevice’s interface, is one of the most often downloaded items and is marked on every “must-have” list of homebrew applications. For iPhone users displeased with the subpar Messages app that came with the iPhone OS, there are at least two texting apps on Cydia, biteSMS and iRealSMS, that add features such as Drafts, Quick Reply, Quick Compose, and more. Before Apple introduced their backgrounding and folder features in iOS4, we already had Backgrounder and Categories. These are just a few examples of the freedom of customisation jailbreaking afforded us.

Eventually in 2008, Apple unveiled the App Store, a virtual marketplace for developers to sell their applications via an Apple-controlled channel. Since the beginning, one of the key missing features of this store has been a trial service, or even a refund policy. Considering that many competitor products have had these policies for years, some would expect them to be unquestionably employed by Apple, yet two years later in 2010 people are still being swindled by sub-quality applications.

The iPhone “cracked app scene” started from the idea of people being able to trial apps before sinking their money into them; an especially useful and welcome exercise considering that such a large number of apps on Apple’s App Store are pointless, underdeveloped, overpriced, and with deceptive descriptions to boot. In the two years that have passed, our community has enjoyed an explosion of activity resulting from the interest of many to trial iPhone apps. Many of our users appreciate the opportunity to be able to make a confident and informed decision when handing over their money for apps.

Understandably, the developers who paved the way for jailbreaking are not too eager to join our community. These are the forefathers of the iPhone jailbreaking scene, who have released tools such as Pwnage Tool, redsn0w, and Spirit, and they are collectively known as the iPhone Dev Team. The team members have shown disinterest in our community, citing that a considerable portion — perhaps a majority — of our users are pirates.

Various Dev Team members recently did an interview on TWiiPhone, and the consensus among them was that they detest anything remotely associated with piracy. They have stated that they believe piracy gives jailbreaking a bad name, and while I concede that point of view, I would like also to present three important details that demonstrate that Hackulous’ brand of activity is not causing as much damage as the Dev Team and everyone else may think.

1. Most of the pirates who use our services do so because they simply cannot afford to purchase the applications. One of the prominent members of the Dev Team, planetbeing, described the pirates who use our software as “predominantly in their early teens where money is scarce and time is abundant.”

Since these users have never had any intention or capability to purchase the applications whether or not cracked versions are available, developers of these apps are losing significantly less than what they believe they are to these people.

2. Another portion of our pirates are those who have the capability of purchasing iPhone apps, but not the desire. These pirates typically do not “need” any particular application for free, they just want whatever application that can provide a certain level of entertainment for them.

They are not so much making the choice between purchasing or pirating software A, but rather making the choice between pirating software A or B. So again, the profit lost attributed to this tribe of pirates has been overestimated; these pirates would not have forked over their money anyway, they would just move on.

3. Over three million devices are running our software, Installous, to download and install cracked iPhone apps. The people using these devices are Apple customers who are likely to purchase another device, purchase new Apple products, or refer their friends to Apple. As I have stated before, the people who use our services to trial iPhone applications actually help Apple more than they hurt it.

Why, you ask? If a majority of our three million users are pirates, the value in Apple’s devices is significantly higher: These millions of users, who would otherwise be incapable or unwilling to purchase apps, now have a rich source of entertainment that greatly enhances their experience with their devices.

Apple does not like piracy, but as long as piracy increases the value of jailbroken iPhones, they have no need to be passionate about stopping it. As music has shown Apple and Steve Jobs himself, DRM can always be defeated. Apple is in fact embracing piracy for what it can accomplish for their company.

4. Piracy also helps to expose an application to the masses, much like music piracy helps artists and bands get more publicity. Without cracked app sites like apptrackr, a lot of applications would be left languishing in the pits of the App Store among the rest of the 240,984 apps (at last count) available.

Only the top 100 free and paid apps and the top 10 free and paid apps in each of the 20 genres, summing up to 600 apps, get any considerable notice. A large number of apps only get to enjoy recognition from the people within the developers’ circle of influence. When they are placed on apptrackr, however, they are exposed to an extensive audience which make up millions of unique visitors a month.

Plenty of these visitors might have never discovered these apps if not for them being placed on apptrackr. Now that they have, developers stand to gain an arbitrary percentage of profit from those who choose to buy the app after trialing, rather than to not get any customers at all.

To sum up my points, the negative impact of piracy on the market has been overstated. Contrary to what people see on the surface, piracy is not truly as detrimental as developers claim. Even Apple is likely to be more concerned with unofficial unlocks than our DRM circumvention.

This article is not in any way an attempt to convince anyone, much less the Dev Team, to condone piracy, but more to demonstrate that the population has no need to feel that piracy is corrupting the concept of jailbreaking.

The community at Hackulous, for one, has never sought to blur the lines between jailbreaking and app trialing, and we do put in effort to educate our users about the difference. Our core community has always embraced the true spirit of jailbreaking, which is to free our devices from the grips of Apple’s closed platform, and while we parttake in circumventing Apple’s DRM, we have always disapproved of associating piracy with jailbreaking.

In addition, none of the Hackulous staff are pirates and our moderators are advised not to discuss nor encourage piracy. Appulous, Installous, and eventually apptrackr, were created purely for trialing purposes. I am aware that most people think we say this to save face or for plausible deniability, but it is the honest truth. We know that a large portion of our users do not use our services as intended; this is an unavoidable fact of life. There is nothing we can do about this except to shut down our services entirely, but to be frank, our legitimate users mean a lot more to us than the pirates who use our software for unintended purposes.

I would like everyone to understand and acknowledge that we would not be operating our websites and creating the tools if we were to believe that pirates are truly harming Apple or its developers. We have our conviction that they are not, and that is why we persevere.

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