Crowdsourcing a jailbreak? Fundraising campaign hopes to hack the iPhone 5S, iOS 7

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Is iOS 7 jailbroken yet (.com)? The answer to that question is still “no.” Various people are actively working on exploiting both the latest OS and the latest devices, but no major progress has been shared. With many questioning whether the jailbreak community will ever rise again, a new group hopes to kickstart the hack in a new way.

Crowdsourcing has become synonymous with the likes of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, where projects go to find the infusion of cash that ultimately brings them to live. The benefits are tangible in many ways: projects receive cash, yes, but they also receive customers with a vested interest in their success.

A new group hopes to do something similar for the jailbreak community.

The Idea

It’s simple. The latest Apple devices and software aren’t jailbroken. Many people want a jailbreak. Hacking the software is hard, and requires people with a specific set of skills. These people want compensation for their time, just like anyone else who does a job would.

IsiOS7JailbrokenYet.com (henceforth known as “iOS7JY.com”) is a campaign by notable members of the industry to offer these people that compensation. The judges — those who decide whether or not a jailbreak qualifies for the cash prize — are as follows:

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Those are some big and notable names. And, according to them, they’re doing it for the right reasons:

We strongly believe that users should have the freedom to control their devices. We wanted an open source jailbreak for iOS 7, giving users the capability to install what they want on their own devices and the ability to audit the code they’re using to do so. Jailbreaking is also critical to ensuring that the disabled are able to use their mobile devices as easily as possible. So we started a prize for the first people who can do it.

Those interested in claiming the prize must meet certain criteria, as judged by the above experts. The requirements are what most would expect, and typically adhere to the precedents set by past jailbreaks:

The jailbreak must:

  • - Work for iPhones (including 4S, 5, 5c, 5s) running iOS 7.
  • - Support the latest current version of iOS (7.04).
  • - Be untethered and accessible to the average user.
  • - Be publicly released and available free of charge.
  • - Be released under one of the OSI-approved licenses.

As of this writing, the prize is up to $7195 USD. I have watched the page for the past few days, and the prize is climbing — though not at a particularly fast rate. Let’s see if that can be changed.

The prize will continue to climb for 18 months. At the end of that period, those who have contributed will be contacted with directions to receive a refund.

The Criticism

There has been some controversy surrounding this project.

First off, the not-so-controversial subject. Not all of the prize will go to the winner. As per their terms,

The contributions will be split as follows: 90% of the prize fund will be paid out to the winning submission. 10% will go toward payment processing (2.9% + 30¢ for credit cards), Threshold platform fees (5%), and donations to EFF and Public Knowledge(remainder).

In other words, most of your donation will go to the prize and other fees, but whatever is left after the payment processing will be donated to the EFF and Public Knowledge organizations. Not necessarily bad in any way, but still — the more you know.

More interesting is the response it has garnered from long-time iOS hacker Saurik, the man behind Cydia and various other iOS jailbreak staples.

In a recent Reddit thread, Saurik had the following to say:

The primary problem I have with this website is that it attempts to change the dynamics from one of “people who do things that are fun to make devices more open” to one of “people who do things to win cash prizes”. Meanwhile, it changes the dynamics in the minds of the people contributing: normally, people contribute after the fact to the teams that built something that they found of value; under the model of this website, people contribute ahead of time, and then hope that the thing that is released works for their specific device (or even “runs on their computer”, etc.), and if it doesn’t they are kind of out of luck.I’ve seen the effects of bounties in the Android ecosystem, and they are quite negative. I tried to explain this to the person behind this project (Elizabeth Stark), but she really didn’t seem to care: in essence, she’s currently working on a project that is a crowd funding platform for software, and she wants to use the iOS community as a test case; she didn’t want to spend any time thinking about the ramifications of her decisions going into the project, and she didn’t send me a response about the issues I saw with her project (which I sent her weeks ago) until this morning (coincident with the release of her website).Additionally, I will point out that 5% goes to Elizabeth Stark (Threshold, which is powering the platform, is her new company). For the last few jailbreaks, I’ve been handling a lot of the donations (people might notice that the PayPal target for donation links is often me), and I will guarantee everyone: I’ve been taking the money, splitting it as directed by the jailbreak teams I work with, and taking 0% for myself. This really is just someone who is trying to bootstrap a new company. Please simply donate to whomever you feel did right by you, and do so after they provide you something of value: do not use this website.
His comments about Threshold are based upon the platform this website was built with.Saurik’s points are well-put; this does change the very dynamic of how jailbreaks have historically been handled, and that change may not necessarily be for the best.There is, however, an argument to be made that without some kind of enticement to get developers interested, no jailbreak will ever be made again. Apple’s security teams continue to make strides in restricting the platform to outside hackers even as the App Store and other APIs are made more open. But as Saurik poignantly says, these changes may not be for the best.

Should you contribute?

Yes and no. Yes, if you believe that this type of crowdfunding is useful. I have some major qualms about this website being used as a Silicon Valley test to promote some new platform, but the idea seems conceptually solid. We’ve seen crowdfunding work for games and other pieces of software, and while the idea failed with Android, iOS is a different platform. The numbers show that iOS users are far more willing to part with some cash to purchase software that will enhance their experience.

iPhone 5 Jailbreak

No, if you hold true to the ideals that jailbreaking are based upon. Those are just ideals, and many will lambast you for them, but they are true to much of what has moved free and open-source software forward.

If you do decide to contribute to the website, the payment platform is secure. You can pay with Bitcoin (WOO), or with a regular credit/debit card via Stripe, a secure and well-regarded payment processor. Best of all, you don’t have to deal with Paypal.

Personally, my money will remain in my wallet. I don’t have any major issues with crowdsourcing a jailbreak, but I do not believe in a California startup using an existing community as a way to test a product and idea. The very idea reeks of arrogance; my money will go to the talented developers of the App Store, and — eventually — the hackers that produce a jailbreak, not some middleman startup in California.

Post a response / What do you think?