If you wanted another argument against the carrier practice of locking phones to their own networks, AT&T(s t) provided one last week. AT&T mobile customers’ private information was compromised when data thieves posing as customers hacked into AT&T to get the valuable codes that would open up locked smartphones.
The breach happened in April, but AT&T only disclosed it last week in filing with California regulators, and Ma Bell recently began sending letters to affected customers, according to IDG News. AT&T didn’t say how many customers were affected, but their personal information, Social Security numbers and call records were exposed in the process, IDG reported.
Of course, getting rid of phone locking isn’t going to stop malicious hacking attempts against AT&T or any other service provider. But it is another telling example of how phone locking creates more problems than it solves. While a phone lock could feasibly prevent an ill-gotten mobile device from being re-activated on a U.S. carriers’ networks, there are plenty of ways around it.
The main reason carriers lock phones is to prevent customers from bringing their phones to a competitor. In most cases that’s because carriers have traditionally discounted or financed the device. A phone lock isn’t a guarantee that customers will finish out their contracts, but it does prevent them from bringing that subsidized device to a competitor’s network before paying it off. Basically your phone is on mortgage, and locking is the closest thing carriers have to repossession.
Carriers, however, can still hold you to your contract or financing plan even if you take your device elsewhere or sell it – it is a contract after all. Meanwhile device locking is increasingly hurting the folks who are legitimately trying to move their devices between networks, as my colleague Jeff John Roberts found when he tried to activate his out-of-contract AT&T iPhone(s aapl) on T-Mobile’s network.