Buyer Beware: Verizon Wireless and Sprextel disabling features on handsets they sell

Summary:In response to yesterday's post about how Verizon Wireless' newest phone -- the LG Chocolate -- is an shining example of not only how Digital...

In response to yesterday's post about how Verizon Wireless' newest phone -- the LG Chocolate -- is an shining example of not only how Digital Rights Management technology is finding its way into everything we own, but also, the incredibly lopsided end-user license agreements that wireless service subscribers must agree to, one ZDNet reader pointed me to more evidence of how phone manufacturers are putting cool technologies into their phones (technologies that might cause you to buy them) only to have wireless carriers disable those technologies.  Today's case in point are Motorola's phones, many of which, like Moto's V325, have a still image camera in them.  To transfer the images to your PC, Motorola makes a utility called Phone Tools 4.  According to the Web page for the utility:

Personalize with Ringtones, Images and Videos -- Transfer and store pictures taken with your cell phone camera to your computer. Never have to worry about filling up your cell phone memory again! Take as many pictures as you please and store them all on your computer. Personalize your phone by creating your own ringtones and adding personal pictures or videos to your phone. 

As a side note, that Web page has a picture of a girl with an uninviting spider's next of cables laying on the table in front of her (enough to make any mortal looking to get their phone connected to their computer run).  Anyway, it seems like a cool utility, right? Well, only if you're a customer of Cingular's or T-Mobile's because here's the fine print you need to read before dropping your $30 for the utility:

IMPORTANT NOTE: This downloadable software is fully supported for Cingular and T-Mobile customers. However, portions of this software's functionality have been disabled for Verizon or Nextel customers, so Motorola Phone Tools will not work fully with phones using those carriers. If you are a Verizon customer, all multimedia and internet connection features in this software will be disabled due to carrier request. Please contact your service provider for further information. 

Ironically, right under the place on the page where this text appears is a button that says "Tell a friend."  (consider it done).

Why would wireless carriers make such a request. Well, think of it this way -- if part of your business is to make money on ringtones but you give end-users a way to create their own, well, so much for your ringtone business.  Unfortunately, once you shut down the synchronization pipe for ringtones (nothing more than digital audio), the pipe gets shut down for other stuff too (like the pictures the phone takes).  Now, there are alternative paths. I've taken pitctures with my Motorola V265 phone and used the phone's ability to email those photos (for example, I emailed one picture of a tiny car I backed my truck into to my Flickr account). But not everyone opts to connect the full Internet services package to their phone (which is basically what I needed to move the picture out of the phone via email). 

Ultimately, it's a bit insane that the phone manufacturers haven't made it so that the user data area in a phone (like, where the photos are stored) can appear to a PC as a USB drive.  But that would be too easy of an end run around the sorts of services that phone companies are hoping to sell (at an additional cost) to their subscribers.   

Topics: Mobility

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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