Unlocked Cell Phones: What's the Risk?
Jackie here. Smartphones are a big investment, and when consumers switch from one cell phone provider to another, we often want to bring our devices with us. In order to do this, a cell phone must be “unlocked” – a process which enables a phone to be used on any carrier network. It sounds simple, but in actuality the legalities and security risks of unlocked phones make the matter a little more complex.
Are Unlocked Phones Legal?
If you follow the news you may have seen coverage regarding recent changes to phone unlocking laws. Since January, unlocking phones has been an illegal practice when you get the phone as part of a contract with a wireless provider. Wireless providers offer phones at a significant discount to consumers when you sign up for a contract attached to the phone – and as many of us know, breaking the contract is expensive. Currently, unlocking these phones from wireless carriers is illegal and punishable by fines and possible imprisonment.
The House of Representatives is working on a bill known as the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013that would allow phone unlocking. If this bill passes, consumers will be able to take their favorite phones, like the iPhone or the Blackberry Z10, to any network they choose.
Are Unlocked Phones Safe?
Unless you buy a phone that is not tied to a wireless carrier contract (usually at at full retail price), unlocking a phone without manufacturer permission requires that the phone first undergo a process known as “jailbreaking”. The process can decrypt private data and may leave a phone unprotected from malware and security attacks.