iPhone Jailbreak Hacker Strikes Again

The hacker responsible for unlocking the original iPhone is at it again, with a new tool for the iPhone 3GS that gives rebel users the ability to run applications from sources other than those sanctioned by Apple.

George Hotz’s new purplera1n application marks the latest in a string of “jailbreaking” tools designed to circumvent Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) efforts to lock the iPhone to a exclusive carriers and ensure that the phone only runs apps approved by Apple through its App Store.

In a recent blog post, Hotz said, “Yes, this is what you’ve all been waiting for. A jailbreak for the iPhone 3GS. And it’s awesome. To get started right now, go to purplera1n.com and download it.”

Hotz, who first stepped into the limelight when he unlocked the original iPhone as a teenager in 2007, posted a Windows app to jailbreak the newest iPhone model on Friday. He followed up on Saturday with a Mac version sent in by fellow coders.

He also said that he doesn’t generally offer jailbreak apps to the public, but made an exception in this case when no other jailbreaks surfaced in the three weeks since the smartphone went on sale.

Not surprisingly, Apple takes a dim view of such apps. In the past, it’s warned that users who jailbreak their iPhones could do “irreparable damage” to their devices, which might then be deactivated through future Apple software updates.

The company also has said that users who make unauthorized modifications to the software on their iPhones have violated the software license agreement and voided their warranty.

Yet the danger has remained a small price to pay for users looking to add unsanctioned applications to their phones, or for those who have sought ways to use carriers other than AT&T.

Hotz’s debut of purplera1n comes as carriers’ practice of striking exclusive deals with smartphone makers is coming under scrutiny from legislators and the FCC. Apple and AT&T (NYSE: T) have a deal under which AT&T remains the iPhone’s exclusive carrier in the U.S. until the end of the year.

While AT&T is enjoying the boost to subscribers under the arrangement, the partnership has also come under fire from users.

Since the debut of the iPhone 3G, Apple and AT&T have faced criticism over lower-than-expected 3G data speeds. In recent weeks, the carrier responded by saying it’s working on upgrading its 3G services to improve coverage and speed.

During the launch of the iPhone 3GS, AT&T also took some heat for not immediately supporting tethering and MMS — both features enabled in the new device, but not yet supported on its network. Users also took shots at AT&T for its upgrade pricing plans for existing customers, which some had claimed was unfairly expensive. (AT&T changed its pricing policies following the outrcy, making a cheaper upgrade price available to more users.)

New iPhone 3GS customers also experienced delays in getting their devices activated online, after which Apple issued a $30 iTunes credit to those affected — though the phone maker did not say whether AT&T had been at fault.

Apps like George Hotz’s purplera1n also are at the heart of an ongoing discussion regarding the rights of owners of devices like the iPhone. For instance, Apple and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are engaged in an ongoing debate over what constitutes legal use of Apple devices, and whether users can jailbreak their phones without running afoul of the law.

Jailbreaking an iPhone infringes on copyrights, compromises security and violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, according to comments filed by Apple with the Copyright Office as part of the 2009 DMCA triennial rule making.

The EFF, however, claims that if a consumer buys a phone, he or she should be able to do whatever they want with it — including running third-party applications and using it on any wireless network. The group is petitioning the DMCA to allow jailbreaking.

Apple and Hotz had not returned calls seeking comment by press time.

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