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Stick it to the man! Phone unlocking skyrockets 70 percent since becoming illegal

cell phone unlocking ban lifted iphone unlock

If you really want to encourage someone to do something, make it forbidden. Going all the way back to the first stories in the Bible, this age-old theory has been proven time and again. Today’s forbidden fruit just happens to be smartphone unlocking. And since it became illegal earlier this year, phone unlocking has almost doubled in popularity. VentureBeat reports that phone unlocking is up as much as 71 percent by some counts.

The data comes from Darren Kingman, who works for a UK phone unlocking site called Mobile Unlocked, which helps people unlock their phones, an activity that is not so illicit in other areas of the world. Further proving that talking about, and illegalizing, unlocking has boosted its popularity, Kingman explained that his traffic has only increased in the United States.

“U.S. traffic was just eight percent of our site,” Kingman said. “The other 80-90 percent [of the world] has not seen a similar jump.”

Google search trends also show a solid increase in searches for “unlock a phone” since January.

What is phone unlocking and how did we get here?

Phone unlocking is the act of freeing your phone from restrictions put on it by mobile carriers. For example, if you purchased a phone from AT&T, that phone normally could likely work on other carriers like T-Mobile, but AT&T adds in code to the phone’s firmware that restricts you from running the device on other carriers. In October 2012, the Librarian of Congress eliminated the 2006 phone exemption to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that made cell phone unlocking legal. So, beginning in January 2013, it became illegal to unlock your phone, because when you do, you are changing the “copyrighted” firmware of the phone. It’s a silly law, and there is a good bill that could fix things, but because of the Edward Snowden/NSA fallout, Congress appears too scared to tackle any tech legislation. The bill is still stuck in committee.

It could be some time before unlocking your phone is, once again, a legal activity. But, like anything banned that doesn’t seem wrong, it’s now that much more fun to give it a try.

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Jeffrey Van Camp
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As DT's Deputy Editor, Jeff helps oversee editorial operations at Digital Trends. Previously, he ran the site's…
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