I recently had a discussion with some people about the use of a cell phone as a modem or router. It is commonly referred to as tethering today though the only idea that comes to mind for this reference is the way a mobile phone on a USB cable marginally looks like a tether ball on a poll but I digress. We ended up talking about it because a friend of mine decided to bait me with a 90 degree tangent from his thread topic and I fell for it. Suffice to say his coworkers, Tweedledee-ta-dee and Tweedledum as I call them, or otherwise referred to as the “Sheeple” decided to egg things on till I ended it. Apparently I have a Pavlov effect on trolls because as of this morning Tweedledee is still hoping for another response from me.
The idea we were discussing is simple.
Is it ethical for a hardware vendor to sell you a device then above and beyond the actual service for that device sell you the features of that device?
As simple as this idea is I must explain further. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a company selling services. In this case the device we’re talking about is a smartphone running a mobile OS that allows for applications to be run from it such as phone capability, address book, notepad, etc. It is one particular application that sparks this debate; the internet browser. By all aspects the internet browser on the phone is just that. A window to the world wide web showing you content at various addresses. One of the services the company sells is the data service that allows you to browse the web. One debatable topic to field right now would be,
Is it ethical to compartmentalize the services of a product in order to maximize profit or provide various service levels?
I would answer yes and no to this question. Yes it is ethical when you are attempting to help the consumer. No it is not ethical to maximize profit. Lets dive in to the Yes a bit. Not all consumers want data service. Being a technology person I find it odd that anyone out there today would still not at least have an email address and want to have that level of connectivity with their families and friends at their finger tips but there are. There are also some who simply cannot afford the price of the service. Those that can afford it and desire it should have it. The company offering such service should reasonably price it and offer it to consumers. This would be ethical in my opinion. Before we explore the No I will give you the more specific reason I am even typing this.
I do not believe it is ethical to sell the functionality of the use of data service.
Is it ever ethical to sell service functionality? It absolutely is. The reason I say No is two part. First based on precedent and the second on personal choice. For most of the history of the internet its service providers have been limited the providing that service via land line connections of various types. With the advent of wireless data service in various forms it became a more complex issue because wireless devices did not keep pace with their wired brethren. Mobile phones being even worse off than mobile computers. For years it was very hard and probably at points improbable to deliver a full computing experience from a mobile phone platform at a reasonable or any cost. For the sake of time lets fast forward to today. Mobile phones are as close to mobile computers as we have ever made them. They run mobile versions of full computer operating systems enabling them to offer features we’ve never seen in a small form factor but that doesn’t change the ethics involved. Here is another case to consider.
What would you say to your home internet service provider if they told you that you could not use a router with their service and you had to pay a fee for each device you wanted to attach to your data service?
I’m going to venture a guess and say you would think they were mad. I have at least 12 devices in my home that connect to the internet. The use of a home router to provide multiple devices with internet access in the home, or business’s for that matter, is ubiquitous across the world. You contract with an ISP to provide you data service and in turn based on pricing they offer you a level of bandwidth that suits your needs. In my opinion when it comes to tethering mobile phone companies are no different when talking about data service.
How I use my data service is up to me.
If I use it from a phone or by connecting my phone to a computer I’m still just using data service. I cannot express my disappointment in my mobile carrier of 12 years when they announced that the use of a wireless tethering application on my newly purchased phone would cost an extra fee per month and be limited to a certain number of devices. My first thoughts on it were of a technical nature but shortly after delved into ethics I speak about now. In the end I chose the only option I saw I could. I gained superuser access (rooted) to my phone and loaded a customized operating firmware or OS ROM onto it so I could further control the use of my phone. One way being loading a wireless router (tethering) application that allows my phone to serve as a wireless router to as many device as I see fit (normally just one… my laptop) and a second so I can customize the user interface (UI) how I like it beyond the capabilities that the manufacturer has built in. In a way I feel like this is some sort of social resistance to a corporate culture I’m feeling more and more disenfranchised with. One of these days, sooner rather than later, I hope companies will realize their goals should not be to nickel and dime people to death but simply to provide great, high quality service at a reasonable price.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment.
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