The strange case of Verizon Wireless and the lost hour

I woke up this morning and picked up my phone. On the screen was a message about Verizon updating my phone. There was only one button , and no way to avoid the update.

When I rebooted my phone, “universal search” (the feature that allows you to search the web and the phone simultaneously) was gone, presumably as a result of the recent Apple/Samsung lawsuit. There was a custom padlock screen showing on boot. This is Verizon’s way of saying that your warranty is voided, though it could also mean that you are card-carrying paid-up member of the phone-hacker community.

I could have lived with that, but root was broken as well… and that is unacceptable. In order to un-break it I had to re-root the phone, a process that involves downloading a Rooted Rom Image and writing it to the phone. I then had to install an OTA Blocker Program ($2.99 from the Android Market) to prevent Verizon from pulling this kind of stunt again.

Everything is now back to normal. The phone works as it did last night, root works, and the boot padlock has gone away.  The whole procedure took me just over an hour; that was an hour of my life that Verizon and their controlling ways have stolen from me and I will not get back.

Don’t get me wrong; OTA Firmware updates are a great idea. That’s how security problems are fixed and new functionality is added, and if you have not rooted your phone, unlocked your bootloader or installed a custom ROM (which would be 99%+ of us), my advice would be to accept the update. However, I have a problem with updates that are more about control than progress, and I have an even bigger problem with updates being rolled out without giving the user a chance to refuse them or delay them to a more convenient time. Microsoft’s habit of auto-rebooting your computer after installing automatic updates – and losing any unsaved work left on the machine – is also unacceptable, for precisely the same reason.

I also have a big problem with useful functionality being retrospectively removed from a phone to keep someone else happy. It’s one thing to shut down a store selling fake Rolex watches, it’s another to roam the streets tracking down folks who bought them and tearing the watches off their wrists – and that is effectively what this is. For some reason, we have somehow surrendered our property rights in the digital realm.

Verizon, I pay you for a phone and a monthly fee to use it on your network. If I want to tinker with my phone, as long as I do not defraud anyone or abuse the network, I should not have to fight with you in order to do it. That should not be your business.

I am your customer.

I am not your product.

You would do well to remember that.

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