Student Turns Jailbreaking Into $50K Annual Business

Most of us jailbreak our iOS devices to expand the functions of our devices or to simply customize the look. Jailbreaking itself has become much more popular in the last few years due to the amazing ease of the iPhone Dev Team’s tools.

Recent jailbreaking tools can jailbreak an iOS device with the clicks of a few buttons, where in the past the process was much more complex. With the ubiquitous nature of jailbreaking, it was only a matter of time before someone took advantage of it.

Kevin Lee, a George Mason University senior, claims he makes about $50,000 a year from hacking customers iPhones for them. The Washington Post is reporting that the student runs Craigslist ads that describe his different services. For example, Lee will unlock, jailbreak, and customize an iDevice for various prices.

Frankly, I feel charging people to jailbreak their iDevices is wrong. Even the Dev Team clearly states that their tools are NOT to be used for commercial use. While we don’t know which tools this student uses exactly, there’s no doubt in my mind it’s tools from the Dev Team.

I jailbreak iDevices for my friends and family, but of course I never charge them. Instead, I do it for free and then show them how easy it is to do. For everyone else, Gary and I publish easy to follow jailbreaking guides on this website for free.

A lot of blogs are publishing this story today and essentially applauding this kid. I disagree. If he is using the Dev Team’s tools, this is simply stealing and taking advantage of people. Either create your own jailbreak tools from scratch or get out.

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Reports on iPhone news, reviews apps and accessories. Also an armed ninja with an iPhone 4S.

  • Psivagnanam25

    Arent u guys stealing and taking advantage of those developers that have spent countless hours creating their perfect app for the app store; for those of whom jb to get free access to those apps.

    Bottomline, now u kno how they feel.

  • If someone is too busy/lazy/worried to figure out how to do it, and this kid is using his own time to do it, how can he not charge for it?

    Plugging in a stove, installing a Hard Drive, reformatting a computer… all these things are easy to do and have tutorials online, yet people still pay other people to do these tasks because they are either too busy, too lazy or just too scared…

    It’s different if you know the person, but complete strangers… my time is worth money, if you want help… pay up.

    My 2 cents

  • @ Psivagnanam25 I don’t think they’re talking about Jailbreaking to steal apps… that is different.

    I’ve done it, and it wasn’t to pirate apps.

  • D10k6

    I have no problem with this. For some people it is easier to pay someone than do it or learn it themselves. Yes, the tool is free but his time/experience is not.

  • Oclement

    Jailbreaking is not about pirating games and softwares, it’s about unlocking new functionality. Hell, I bought an AppStore rejected app on Cydia to have haptic feedback on my i4… ain’t that noble? I jailbroke so I could actually PAY a developper for his work, which I couldn’t do otherwise.

    get your things together

  • Edge

    Agree 100%. I help friends and family jailbreak, install new memory, install new hard drives, fix their computers when they get a virus, etc. However, there are thousands of legitimate businesses which do this for a fee. If a person doesn’t care to figure something out, or is too afraid, then businesses like this are fine, if the prices are reasonable. Of course, companies like Best Buy will church $40 to install a hard drive, so I guess that’s where the business side comes in.

  • ML

    1. JB != pirating apps.

    2. He is using his own time and skills to assist others, so he has all the right to charge for his services. If he were selling Dev Team’s tools, which are distributed for free, THEN his ethics would come under question. People have a choice: they either pay for something to be done without any hassles, or start educating themselves and learning how to JB their devices by trial and error. If I didn’t know anything about JB and had no interest in learing, I would pay for someone to do it for me.

    When you go to a mechanic and he fixes your car, you don’t accuse him of stealing your car manufacturer’s parts, do you? By applying EX’s logic, the mechanic IS being unethical since he’s using parts that he didn’t create and charges you money for it. D’uh!

  • Ex

    Except the car part manufacturers don’t say “not for commercial use”.

  • ML

    Being a devil’s advocate, I can say that the kid is NOT using those tools for commercial purposes. He does the JB part “for free” but charges them for the time it takes to do that “free work”. Imagine you’re downloading Redsn0w on your iPhone. Your telco will charge you for the data that you used to download the tool. It’s not the tool itself that they charge you for.

    In any case, I see nothing wrong with charging to assist people using freely available tools. Selling those tools would be unethical though.

  • AB

    There will always be people willing to pay for services they can easily perform themselves. Is it wrong for the neighbour’s kid to offer to mow your lawn / shovel your driveway for 10 bucks? Are people who hire cleaning ladies to clean their homes being taken advantage of? I’m sure there is a huge market of people out there who would like their device jailbroken but have absolutely no interest in learning how to do it themselves, and thus are happy to pay someone to do it for them. IMO the only thing that would make this “wrong” is if he was gouging them for the service.

  • Ethan

    i do recall when the dev team used to constantly announce the other “fake websites” out there selling their software they clearly stated it was ok to use it as a tool for your services but simply directing someone to software was not fair game in their books. if you were willing to put your time into helping someone else jailbreak their phone or ipod touch then thats what your charging for. alot of people are scared to use this software. especially because apple makes their employees lie. im sure these people have heard about it and ask apples sale reps what it does and they are ordered to say that it will automatically brick the phone and it will become unusable. which is a very scary thought if youve purchased an iphone for 700-800 dollars. but then there are the people like us who take our time to read over these blogs and understand the issues. we go through the forums and go through the comments to see what kinds of trouble people have gone through using these tools and how to avoid it. because theres nothing more frustrating than hearing great things about something and then being let down when it doesnt work and being with out a phone or your music for a couple days and for some even hours is to much to bare. i know for me when i first started using these tools back in 2008 i bricked my phone. spent 8 hours trying to fix it. ended up going to someone off craigslist to help with the problem. he took me to his place told me to have a seat and he went into another room where he said people werent allowed and fixed it. i payed 80$ for this back then. now its as cheap as 15$ later i realized that if the custom firmware bundle wasnt sitting alone in the iphone update folder then the jailbreak would get 90% of the way and fail. another instance. i didnt know that while entering DFU mode for better performance and more reliability you should have itunes closed. all these things are simple yet un mentioned in your tutorials. you have to go through the comments and the forums just to find these things out. because these tutorials hardly get updated unless theres a new release of the software. i think its great people out there help other people in the jailbreaking community and for some, they dont know others who know how to do these things. so they search online for the services to be done, i dont think its stealing and i dont think the dev team does either. if anything this person is ensuring that the jailbreak community expands, and more people become familiar with their software.

    thanks for your time. 🙂 hope youve enjoyed my thoughts.

  • Derrick Rockwell

    Seriously? Is this a slow news day for a poster to now be ranting about something he doesn’t like? Get used to it pal, it’s the way of the world making money, maybe you should have done the same thing charging some friends $5 here and there isn’t that bad no criminal.

    Basically, I think this is a useless blog post and should be removed. News goes on the front page, your personal view about someones ‘business’ belongs in a rant forum or your personal blog.

  • Dan

    And I’m sure that he’s paying his taxes on the $50K, no? 😉

  • KGB

    In response to everyone commending this kid because it is similar to performing services for others, the distinction lies in that he is using others’ tools to make a buck.

    If I am going to install a stove for someone, or shovel their driveway, yes, I am performing a service, however, I’m also using tools that I (most likely) paid for / have a legal right to exploit.

    Using the Dev Team’s tool to exploit a profit is for sure wrong. They could likely have recourse against him for some profits if they wanted…

  • Musumekiller

    I agree man, we got for free and people made money off other people’s hard work, WTF

  • iamlynda

    I don’t have issue with him jailbreaking for a fee – good on him for his entrepreneurship (sp??) – however, if he is indeed using someone elses tools rather than his own, those people who developed the tool should be being compensated. We are so lucky to have the Dev Team constantly figuring out new tools for us with every new update and having iPinCan provide us with step-by-step guides – if this young man is capitalizing on the back of someone else’s work, well that’s just not right

  • ML

    They have no legal recourse. Any case would fall apart in an instant even in front a first-year law school student.

    He’s using Dev’s tools, yes. He’s not charging for service. He charges for time it takes him to get to customer’s premises. Case dismissed.

  • Ramsdaro

    Agree 100%. Got attacked on anoter blog for posting this as wrong. Glad some of us still have morals.
    The only way I could justify it. Is if the proceeds. All 100% were going to dev team and or charities.

  • M002PVT

    The guy is charging for his work and time. It shouldn’t matter if someone else created the jailbreak, this kid is actually providing a service to people. Most people I know don’t want anything to do with jailbreaking their gadgets. But if you pay someone 20 bucks to do to save you the hassle, so be it. He’s not stealing anything from anyone, he’s using a free product that’s been put out on the Internet for EVERYONE to use. I don’t see the dev team providing a service like that.

    He’s one very smart kid! Keep it man! Make as much as you can for as long as you can!

  • Mohammed

    he is basically charging them for his time.

  • KGB

    “He’s charging for time it takes” ?

    let’s look at it another way. Without the tool, his time would be useless

  • KGB

    Also, I haven’t jailbroken my phone, but depending on their term “not for commercial use”.. they could sue for a breach of contract breach.

  • He is not selling the jailbreaking tools… He is sellings services to do te jailbreak for his customers…

  • Ex

    touché

  • G-Man

    You don’t download redsn0w on your phone, you download it on your desktop computer and it’s a software that through usb connection runs on your phone. Your teleco charge’s you $0 for that because you don’t use any data. Your theory is such a FAIL!!

  • Anonymous

    Exactly, that’s the difference. If I fix someone’s computer and install a FREE anti-virus for them, I’m still charging them for my time. This isn’t wrong at all in my eyes. If people want something they’re more likely to pay someone to do it.

  • RABID1

    Interesting. Wonder what Apple would say about the act of jailbreaking “their” iphone? – whether or not we agree with charging for time; or not.

    Is it our right to judge, or is it legal to charge someone to commit a potentially illegal act…..let us all not cast stones here fellow moral icons……..

  • Anonymous

    Its kinda funny, all the jailbreaks ive done have been done with ease. the funny part is how many ppl pay for something that you can google and do it yourself, worst case, you screw up and all you need to do is a restore.
    i too also know some one that does the above, adds on craigs list and kiji, though 50k seems like alot, must be alot of lazy ppl out there

  • ML

    YOU are such a fail, dimwit. Try to put your brain cells (yes, I give you the benefit of the doubt) to work before your respond next time.

    Where and how redsn0w runs is irrelevant. You can download it by tethering to your phone. Just because you don’t use this method to access the net, don’t assume that others don’t.

    Let me make it even simpler for you to comprehend: even if you were using your regular ISP, you would still get indirectly charged for downloading the file by means of a monthly access fee, which includes the cost of data. ~11MB might have only cost you fraction of a cent, but that’s also irrelevant — it’s the fact that you were charged. Go back to school.

  • ML

    Without an iPhone there would be no tools, without Apple there would be no iPhone, etc. The fact of the matter is, he’s a good Samaritan whose time is reimbursed for the free service he delivers using freely available tools. There is no direct profit from the tools and only an indirect link can be made. Once again, if he were selling their tools on http://www.buy-your-jailbreaking-program-for-cheap.com, it would be a a different story.

  • Dennis

    The thing that really gets under my skin is those bulls**t ads of people selling the software with instructions. My brother in-law wasted $20 on eBay because I was on vacation.

  • Anonymous

    By that logic, all desktop support is a scam. I don’t agree. Sometimes people just can’t be bothered, and at that point, they pay someone else to take care of it. Who cares if it’s a reformat of a computer, jailbreaking/unlocking an iPhone, changing the oil in a car, or cooking your burger?

    It takes time, effort, and knowledge regardless. 50k seems like a ton for a service like this, but maybe he just works like a dog. Potentially extortionate pricing is an entirely separate issue. If all you are taking issue with is charging for a service this simple, then I doubt you thought it through for very long before posting this. We pay for convenience and to pass the buck like this in society all the time.

  • Anonymous

    True, but still completely irrelevant. He’s not selling the tool, he’s selling the time & labour. That really is the end of the story. “Looking at it this way” doesn’t change the facts, and the fact is there is no law against charging for performing a service that requires tools or programs developed by others.

  • Anonymous

    Wow you are a f*cking idiot. I hope someone paid you to make a comment that obtuse.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not a lawyer or anything but the wording of the statement says it’s “not for commercial use.” Which to me, means that he cannot *use* it in a commercial environment.

  • I admit I have charged people $20 here an there for Jailbreaking their phones.
    Its was mainly because I was getting tired of people always going “Here! take my iPhone, please make it cool”
    Yes I can… but after doing this 10-20 times i just want people to respect the time im putting in for them 😛
    Save money, do your own research.

    In todays times Jailbreaking is a one click process. People could easily do it themselfs if they just read a little ^_^
    This guy charging people on a mass commercial level I can understand. Its just like selling lemonaid, you can easily make it yourself, chances are you have the stuff at home right now to make it, but you will pay for it just because you dont have to work for it lol As the same goes for everyone who eats fast food 😛 hah

  • Anonymous

    It’s about the ability to realistically pursue. You’re right, with that wording he might be putting himself in a legal grey area. However, so is your grandmother when she uses MS Office Home & Student to make a flyer for a garage sale she’s having, and so is the local busker who made the cover of his album with Photoshop Elements.

  • Anonymous

    @shinratdr I totally understand that, there are tons of examples like that and most people don’t even know that they are technically doing something wrong.

    I’m not saying that they should go after him as it is small time compared to others selling the tool, but to say that he’s doing nothing wrong isn’t exactly true and like the original article said, we shouldn’t be applauding him for it.

  • Carl

    Who cares if this kid charges people. Jailbreaking itself violates your user agreement with Apple so saying that you shouldn’t use Dev Team software for commercial purposes is kind of hypocritical. A lot of people do not understand technology and are scared by it. They would MUCH rather pay someone to unlock or jailbreak their device for fear of ruining it or simply not having the time or savvy to do it themselves.

  • Jailbreaking isn’t illegal so its not really the sinner casting stones. The fact that he is using a non profit program to make a profit is what’s in question. Now should he get paid for his time? I am all for people helping people, and if he can make a buck off of people to stupid, or lazy to follow easy advice, or use google, then more power to him. I help, and post tutorials on sites like this to help those who want to help themselves, no time for people not willing to learn, and frankly its way to easy. And as others have posted, after the 20th “oh please do it for me, I can’t be bothered to learn” its hard sometimes to not say “sure 50 bucks” This kid is not the enemy (maybe to Uncle Sam, for his taxes), the enemy are those sites that promise jailbreak to the masses, and using either stolen the tools or conning the general public.

  • Johnny

    I was gonna argue but after reading some comments ive changed my tune some. My only concern now is when ol Steve Jobs finds out someone is making money by defacing his baby there could be a whole lot more heat on the DEVteam which they prob don’t need.

  • Johnny

    He does the JB part “for free” but charges them for the time it takes to do that “free work”.

    ??? This seems a little contradictory. So he Jailbreaks the phone for free but charges for the time it takes to Jailbreak?? All it takes to jailbreak a device is time and the program itself, so what part of the process is he charging for?

  • There are already some people making money with the jailbreak
    “industry”… Look at cydia… Not all programs are free…

  • ML

    To drive to peoples’ houses, for instance. Gas + time.