Recent updates to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have made hacking your tablet illegal for at least three more years. That's right: The government is up in your tablet's business.
So what's the reasoning here? It's perfectly legal to jailbreak your smartphone and hack away at your laptop. Car owners are free to tinker away with aftermarket performance parts, knowing full well that the parts might have some unintended consequences on their vehicles. So why are tablets the target of a bizarre copyright law?
We think it's silly, and that tinkering with your tablet is not only acceptable, but should be encouraged. When you experiment with a car, it really becomes yours. The same holds true for tablets: out of the box, they aren't perfect for everybody. But you can change that.
Hacking is often associated with the image of a lonely computer nerd sitting behind a CRT monitor and trying to access sensitive government documents, but the actual act is quite pedestrian. Most of the time, it's simply about changing something that the a device's default software would never allow. In short, hacking enables us to improve our tablets by tossing out some old rules, and swapping in some others.
Yes, a few hackers use exploits and vulnerabilities in code for ill. But much of what is considered "hacking" under current legislation is what's called "white hat" (or ethically neutral) code manipulation. White hat hackers don't hurt anyone, nor do they deprive others of income. Despite the fact that hacking tablets is illegal in the US, it's morally no different than performing your own routine car maintenance.
So what makes hacking an attractive option in the first place? Your tablet is programmed with a set of limitations to protect users from themselves. There are lots of ways you can royally screw up your machine, so to prevent user satisfaction from taking a nosedive, companies will often prevent users from even starting to make these mistakes.
However, these limitations often prevent you from controlling some aspects of your tablet. For example, you can't get rid of some of the built-in apps, prevent in-app advertisements, and so on. Sometimes your experience is intentionally limited by the manufacturer, and this is why people like to hack their devices. Hacking is nothing more than discarding the manufacturer's rules for your own, and defining your own experience with the device.
Chances are good that you've already done this to your own body if you've ever had a cup of coffee or tea. Your brain is wired to make you sleepy once a high level of a chemical called adenosine builds up in your noggin. If you drink a cup of coffee, the caffeine in it will block your brain from using the chemical, and your brain's rule is temporarily thrown out. Consequently, you stay awake.
I should note that part of playing God with your device means being totally responsible for your actions, mistakes and all: You can destroy (or "brick") your device, but the capabilities of a successfully hacked device are quite impressive.
While iOS devices don't offer many root permissions, there's a huge community of Android users who extensively experiment with their machines. These hackers replace parts of the operating system with their own concoctions: altering the power settings for better battery life, enabling phones to work as WiFi hotspots without paying extra for a data-plan add-on, or even changing the input style. Sometimes these hacker-made features even wind up in official versions of a mobile OS.
It's not a bad thing that you want to make the most of what you buy—it's your device, after all. Hacking, rooting, jailbreaking, or otherwise modifying your own equipment isn't immoral, and it certainly doesn't merit legal consequences.