January 01, 2009

Root Access Jailbreak for Google Android G1 RC30 -- Plus More Bonus Philosophy

Greetings and Happy New Year! The "root wars" continue with the Google Android G1 cell phone, following much the same pattern as we saw with Sony's PSP. When Google released firmware version RC30 for the G1, the root jailbreak exploit was closed -- temporarily.

Now comes word that a means for persons running RC30 to "downgrade" back to RC29 (complete with root exploit) has become available. After using that, users can simply install modified versions of RC30 (and presumably later modified releases that will be coming down the pipe) to maintain root capabilities (including the ability to install the "engineering bootloader" which provides even more flexibility).

This downgrading sequence is extremely similar to what we saw a few years ago with the Sony PSP portable game console, where later firmware releases closed various security holes, but means were found to downgrade to earlier "unfixed" firmware and still maintain the more advanced functionalities via modified firmware versions.

In all fairness, the comparison between the G1 and the PSP can only go so far. Google's Android is an Open Source project -- which the PSP has never been. And in fact, Google will sell anyone an "ADP1" (Android Dev Phone) -- which is essentially a non-SIM-locked G1 with the engineering bootloader, allowing you to flash whatever you wish onto the phone from day one (however, since this phone is not subsidized by T-Mobile, it costs $400 -- more than twice as much as a typical "under contract" G1).

Still, it's fascinating to watch history repeat itself over and over yet again. G1 owners who upgraded to RC30 and who have been kicking themselves over losing root capabilities now have another chance. But keep in mind that the next firmware update for the G1 -- termed "cupcake" -- is due early this month, and it's certainly possible (or more likely probable) that this particular downgrade exploit will be blocked in the new version, once again preventing root access -- at least for a while ...

Now -- you knew it was coming -- it's time for the philosophical voiceover.

Once again, we see fundamental powers of the Internet demonstrated clearly. The ability of persons to collaborate globally (securely if they wish), and then quickly disseminate the results of their labors around the world, have created a sea change in our societies. Sometimes we'll be highly appreciative of these Internet-based capabilities, but they may also seem upsetting or even terrifying to many persons, triggering impassioned (but technically impractical and impotent) calls for Internet content controls -- to try protect intellectual property, morality, public safety, or any of a wide range of other goals.

The Internet in the final analysis is "simply" a tool. And like many other powerful and pervasive tools, isn't merely grafted onto society, but is actually changing society in complex ways that we may not always like, but that we must learn to live with. This doesn't mean giving up our individual ethical or moral compasses. But it does suggest that efforts are not well spent on grandstanding for "controls" over Internet content -- mechanisms that would be ineffective at best, and potentially seriously damaging to key human rights at the worst.

OK, "soapbox mode" switched off for now.

Have a great New Year, everyone. We all really need it.


Posted by Lauren at January 1, 2009 05:01 PM | Permalink
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