Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The iPhone and the Cow

Is it ethical (or even legal) for Apple to brick your unlocked iPhone when you install the latest iPhone firmware update? Leo Laporte made a great argument that it isn't, using the cow analogy. Vincent Ferrari of the Apple Phone Show replied saying the analogy is flawed, and changed it around to show that what Apple did is perfectly legitimate. Now before I continue, you might want to check their arguments:

I agree with Vincent: Leo's analogy is not completely accurate. But Vincent doesn't go all the way t0 the logical conclusion that should come out of his analogy.

So, you bought a cow from Apple, agreeing that each month you will also feed the cow some special food approved by Apple. Then at some point you decide to buy cow food from another provider, because that other food has some benefits to you. You own the cow; it is your right to feed whatever food you want to the cow. Until this point everyone agrees, and everything is good. Now Apple comes up with a special free shot that will make your cow produce more milk. You decide to give that shot to the cow, then cow dies. Apple says: too bad, you shouldn't have given non-Apple-approved food to the cow in the first place.

Who is responsible for the death of the cow? Granted, Apple is not entirely responsible, because you knew that there was risk of the cow dying when you gave that shot, and you still decided to go ahead.

To me the question is one of intent: did Apple purposely design the shot so it would kill cows fed with food that wasn't approved by Apple? If it was possible for Apple to take some simple steps to ensure that the shot isn't deadly to cows fed with food not approved by Apple, did Apple avoid taking those steps? If the answer is the answer is yes to any of those question, then what Apple did is not ethical, and maybe even illegal.