According to the online magazine Techeye.net an ADSL modem/router is considered by a German court. The dispute is over if a user is allowed to install software that changes the ADSL modem’s firewall settings. It was actually a battle between two companies, the company that makes the router and the company making software for the router. I think that this ruling has some extremely interesting implications.
First, by defining a router as a computer it opens the door for a HUGE number of devices to be defined as a computer. Most of us wouldn’t think of a router as a computer. It’s a switch, it has a very specific purpose of deciding which packet gets through to the network at a given time and to prevent congestion on the network. In this case, it has the additional function of pulling out the high speed data from the phone line as well. It does have a user interface, but it’s typically restricted to a web browser. This is hardly something the average user would consider a computer. Which tells me something about the judge in the case – he understands technology and computing. The US and rest of Europe could use more judges like this.
Second, since a broad range of devices are now considered devices, at least in Germany, it could force companies to open up their hardware to user software manipulation. I see a few areas where I think this will cause major companies problems.
The first would be video game consoles. If a router is considered a computer there is no way that a company could argue that a video game console is not a computer. Consider the following, you are able to install software video games onto the console, you actually interact with an operating system, you are able to browse the internet and of course play games on the console. These are all things you are able to do on your PC. There are more restrictions on the console than the PC of course. Now, let’s say a third party company wants to come along and create something that will allow you to increase the functionality of the software or the machine in someway. In Germany, the user should have the right to do that.
The second would be cell phones. It’s pretty obvious that cellphones are computers and this ruling would just cement that. I think this will cause more problems for iOS than for Android. For two reasons, first Android already allows third party app stores onto the devices which increases the control of the end user over the computer. Second, Apple controls what software can be allowed into the app store thus controlling what a user is able to install on their computer. The German ruling basically says that a company cannot stop a user from installing software onto their computer if they want to install it. Apple and the App store are directly controlling what a user can and cannot install onto their device. I would not be surprised if this type of control is challenged in the German courts.
One other implications could be that as you own the computer user may be able to stop companies from remotely installing software onto their computer they don’t want on there. For instance, in the US it’s not uncommon for Verizon Wireless to push software out to specific devices without notifying you. You are giving implicit consent by using their networks. However, if the same thing happened to my PC from Comcast there would be a law suit. Since phones are in a weird quasi state of rights in the US there isn’t the same sort of feelings. However, I believe as the gap between PC and phones close and the desire to control what goes on the phone and what doesn’t increases there will be lawsuits over installing and deleting software from your computer.