Sometimes you gotta bend the rules. And when it comes to technology, some rules are begging to get bent.
You might do it to gain access to features or functionality that your gadget/service provider should offer but doesn’t. Or maybe you just want to avoid something you prefer not to do–like coughing up your e-mail address just to gain access to a site’s content, or (ahem) paying for stuff you’d rather get for free.
And sometimes you do it because, well, it’s awesome.
But awesomeness has a price, and every activity described below carries a risk. Potential fallout ranges from violating terms of service or voiding a warranty, to bricking your favorite gadgets or having a clutch of copyright attorneys descend upon you from a great height.
So these are things you really shouldn’t do. Really. And if you tell anyone where you heard about them, we’ll deny everything.
1. Jailbreak Your iPhone
Apple iPhone owners fall neatly into two groups. Members of the first group suffer under the yoke of tyranny, endure arbitrary rules over what they can and can’t do, and put up with crappy reception (be careful how you hold that thing).
Members of the other group have jailbroken their phones, hacking iOS whatever to get to features, apps, and carriers that are otherwise verboten. There are many ways to unlock the uber phone, but by far the easiest is with Jailbreakme. Simply visit the site jailbreakme.com from your iPhone’s Safari browser, and you’re done. It also works on the iPod Touch and the iPad–but only if your hardware uses iOS 4.01 or an earlier operating system.
Why this is awesome:Let us count the ways: (1) No more AT&T. You may be able to use your iPhone with other GSM-based telecoms such as T-Mobile. (2) No restrictions on the apps you can use. The Cydia store features dozens of apps that work exclusively on jailbroken iPhones. (3) Have we mentioned no more AT&T?
Why you shouldn’t do it: It’s a constant game of cat and mouse between Apple and the jailbreakers, and Apple is the cat. Eventually the cat will win and your jailbreak will fail, possibly leaving you with a pretty paperweight (and no warranty). Also, you’ll make Steve Jobs sad.
2. Let Pandora Out of Her Box
My personal history is divided into two parts: BP (Before Pandora) and AP (After Pandora). That’s how much this streaming music service has changed my life. Unlike normal radio, it plays songs I’ve never heard before yet instantly love.
Problem? Pandora won’t necessarily stream the tune you need to hear right now. One solution: Orbit Downloader, which lets you capture tunes as they’re playing in Firefox or IE and download them to your hard drive–and which works on lots of streaming sites in addition to Pandora. Orbit is free, but you’ll have to fight off optional installs of toolbars and attempts to switch your default search engine. (Or you could simply click the Buy button on Pandora and pay the 99 cents, you tightwad.)
Why this is awesome:Great music for free.
Why you shouldn’t do it:Pandora’s terms of service forbid copying, storing, altering, or otherwise stealing the music tracks it streams. Also, if you do anything that ends up getting Pandora shut down, I will personally come to your house and pummel you. And I’ll bring Chuck Norris.
3. Maintain Multiple Facebook Identities
A Fakebook persona is good for more than just stalking your ex or posting nasty things about your boss; you can use it to say or “like” things without repercussions, or play FarmVille and other obnoxious Facebook apps without risking your personal information and annoying your real friends. All you really need is an e-mail address, a pretty picture, and some bogus details–and you’re off to the races.
Another benefit: You can do what my son did and create a second G-rated Facebook account to deceive your parents and other adult relatives while saving the real one for your peeps. (Kids, if you do try this at home, remember: Don’t log into the real account from dad’s computer and then forget to log out. That will not go so well for you.)
Why this is awesome:No privacy risk and very little chance that your employer or loved ones will know it’s you (unless, of course, you log in and forget to log out).
Did you know that Little Rock recently changed its name to Bozoville, or that Lady Gaga is really Zach Galifianakis in drag? Neither does anyone else–until you add it to Wikipedia. Few things are more satisfying than adding spurious “facts” to the people’s encyclopedia just to see if anyone notices. Hours, days, or weeks later, some self-important Wikipedian will red pencil it, probably leaving a snotty comment in the page’s history. That’s where the real fun begins.
Why this is awesome:You can practically hear that Wikepedian’s sphincter tighten as you engage in an edit war over Lady Gaga’s man parts. (But seriously, has anyone ever seen Lady G. and Zach G. in the same room at the same time?)
Why you shouldn’t do it:You could be banned from editing any more entries. Also, an entire generation of 5th graders may grow up thinking that the capital of Arkansas is Bozoville.
5. Tear Down This Paywall
You want how much for that subscription to CrapICanReadElsewhereForFree.com? Uh, no thanks. I’ll just use someone else’s log-in and password. And what better way to do it than with BugMeNot?
That’s where you’ll find user names and passwords for both pay and free sites like NYTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com, IMDB, and YouTube. (No, PCWorld.com isn’t one of them — sorry.) Even if the site is free, BugMeNot will allow you to leave devastating ripostes in an article’s comments section without having to surrender your real name or e-mail address.
Why this is awesome:Aside from avoiding subscription fees (you skinflint), you won’t get spammed with advertising offers that “may interest you” or banned by sanctimonious comments czars (you know who you are).
Why you shouldn’t do it:You’ll be hammering another nail into the coffin of real journalism. And you’ll feel bad. Trust us.
6. Hijack Someone Else’s Facebook or Twitter Account
Find yourself loitering in Internet cafés or airport lounges with time to kill? Why not hack into your neighbor’s Facebook or Twitter account? Just install Firesheep and log on to a public Wi-Fi network; Firesheep alerts you when someone is attempting to log on via an unencrypted connection and snatches their browser cookie out of thin air. Double-click the cookie inside Firesheep, and you’re in like Flynn (or whomever else you want to impersonate–Howard Zinn, maybe?). What you do from there is up to you and your conscience.
(To avoid suffering the same fate, you can install the Force TLS plug in to encrypt communications over public Wi-Fi.)
Why this is awesome: Everyone has a little voyeur inside them–but really the only reason we included this item was so we could tell you about Force TLS.
Why you shouldn’t do it: You’re almost certainly violating the terms of service for any account you hack, and you’re definitely violating someone’s privacy, which is unethical. Depending on what you do with the accounts, you could also be guilty of violating laws regarding computer fraud or be liable to civil suits for defamation, says Jonathan Ezor, director of the Touro Law Center Institute for Business, Law and Technology. Also: Most people’s accounts are friggin’ boring.
7. Hack Your Wii
Those Nintendo dudes are pretty clever, but despite the fact the Wii comes with a DVD drive, it won’t play DVD movies. That’s why it’s incumbent upon you to correct the injustice by hacking your Wii.
The helpful deviants over at How-To Geek have the skinny on how to pull this off, as does PC World’s Mike Keller. You’ll need a Windows PC with an SD memory card reader, a FAT-16-formatted SD card, the Wii Brew SD Installer, and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. No, seriously.
Nope. They’re just fakes–Twitter accounts designed to fool the masses into imagining that they’ve stumbled upon the ruminations of the celebutard in question. Some are obvious parodies; others are just clever (or evil) imitations. Because if you’re going to waste time on Twitter, you might as well mess with people’s minds while you’re there. Isn’t that why Al Gore invented the InterWebs?
Why this is awesome:Like @BPGlobalPR, you could achieve 15 minutes of Internet fame by skewering an evil multinational corporation while delighting thousands.
Why you shouldn’t do it:If Twitter finds out that the account is bogus–and is clearly not a parody — it will suspend the account. And as with hacked Facebook accounts, you could be held liable for defamation or trademark violations, depending on what you do. So phweet with care.
9. Make E-Mail Vanish
If you have something confidential to say, e-mail is probably the worst vehicle to say it, because copies of it are everywhere–on your PC, on your recipient’s machine, and on many of the servers that it touched along the way. The same warning applies to text messages on your phone.
Want to keep those convos on the QT? Try VaporStream, a Web-based service that lets you send messages that cannot be stored, copied, or forwarded. VaporStream won’t even display the sender/receiver and message contents on the same screen (so taking a screen shot of a message won’t mean squat). And once the recipient finishes reading a message, it self-destructs–permanently. The cost? A mere $7.50 a month, though both the sender and the recipient must have VaporStream accounts.
Why this is awesome:If the message doesn’t exist, Johnny Law can’t get his grubby fingers on it. For their part, law-abiding citizens can send proprietary or confidential information without worrying about leaks, and they can avoid the cost of storing messages.
Why you shouldn’t do it: If you work in an industry (like financial services or healthcare) that requires you maintain records of all communications, you could be breaking the law–and we will disavow any knowledge of your actions.
10. Spy on Someone’s Texts
Worried that teen Johnny or tween Betsy Lou are holed up in their bedrooms, sexting their little fingers to the bone? For $50, products like Mobile Spy and SpectorSoft’s eBlaster Mobile will secretly copy you on every text message your kids send or receive. These products may also provide revelatory information on your spouse’s extracurricular happy time (see the caveats below).
Why this is awesome: Because the little brats have it coming.
Why you shouldn’t do it: Monitoring your spouse without his or her consent is almost certainly illegal (unless you have a warrant or other judicial permission), says Ezor. And though it’s legal to tap your kids’ texts (assuming that you own the phone), if they catch you doing it they will hate you even more than they already do.
11. Download YouTube Videos
For reasons beyond all human understanding, my 11-year-old daughter loves Rick Astley videos. She likes being rickrolled. But rather than sitting idly by and grinding my teeth as she streamed “Never Gonna Give You Up” on YouTube for the 27th time, I used KeepVid to put a copy of it on her hard drive–so she could transfer it to her portable media player, go into her room, and watch the damned thing by herself.
Downloading YouTube videos to your hard drive is easy. Just plug in the URL of the video you want, and KeepVid will convert it to 3GP, FLV, or MP4 format in a range of sizes. My daughter can fill up an entire flash drive with these inane videos (dancing cats are also a favorite) without sucking up precious bandwidth or driving dad insane. All for free.
Why this is awesome:Portable Rick Astley? Say no more.
Why you shouldn’t do it:You’re violating YouTube’s prohibitions against accessing content “through any technology or means other than the video playback pages of the Service itself [or] the Embeddable Player.” And if you distribute the videos, you may be violating the content owner’s copyright. But we’re never gonna give you up.
12. Ditch That DRM
In the bad old days, every song you bought legally on iTunes, Napster, or the Zune Marketplace had icky digital rights management stuff all over it, preventing you from playing it on “unapproved” devices or sharing it with friends. Though music DRM is mostly just an unpleasant memory, you may still have a library of old tunes that you want to convert to an unprotected format.
That is why God and Steve Jobs created the “analog hole”–a way to circumvent DRM by burning songs to a CD and then reripping the music by converting the CD’s DRM-free WAV files into MP3s. Or you can avoid this tedious process by using software such as Tunebite or NoteBurner (both $40) to create a “virtual CD” shortcut on your hard drive for the WAV files.
Why this is awesome:It’s your music, you paid for it, you should be able to do with it as you please.
Why you shouldn’t do it:Efforts to circumvent copy protection could conceivably be construed as violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, though the odds that anyone will prosecute you for taking these steps merely to convert music you’ve already paid for are almost nil, Ezor says. If you try to sell or distribute the stuff you just de-DRMed, though, all bets are off.
13. Root Android
So you bought a groovy new Android phone six or nine months ago, but you’re still waiting for your wireless carrier to upgrade the OS from one of the pitiful early versions? (T-Mobile, we’re talking to you.) Or maybe you just hate all the useless extra “features” your telecom dumped in there. (MotoBlur, anyone?) It may be time to take matters into your own hands and install a custom version of the Android OS.
First you’ll need to find an Android ROM (or build) that works with your handset. Then you’ll need to carefully follow the instructions laid out by helpful Android hackers (like RyeBrye, The Unlockr, or Hack-A-Day) on how to “root” your phone. But beware: Even the “one-click” upgrades can get pretty gnarly.
Why this is awesome:No more crapware, plus the ability to get certain subscription features (like tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot access) for free. Your phone may also be faster and more stable.
Why you shouldn’t do it: You will surely void your warranty, says Android Power blogger JR Raphael, and if you’re not careful you might brick your phone. (That’ll show em.) Like Apple, Google is constantly tweaking Android to make this sort of corrective surgery harder to pull off.
14. Play DOS Games for Free
Looking to turn back the clock? Long for the days of shoulder pads and Duran Duran? Sadly, there is no Internet Hot Tub Time Machine (yet). But you can still play old MS-DOS games that let you party like it’s 1989.
Abandonia distributes games whose owners have stopped making, selling, or supporting them. Its abandonware collection features hundreds of titles, from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (a 2D shooter loosely based on the film) to the original text adventure “Zork”–all free to download.
Why this is awesome: Chunky two-dimensional graphics and cheesy eight-bit sound effects in a DOS window? Bring it on.
Why you shouldn’t do it: Technically, many of these titles are still owned by the original absentee copyright holders, making downloads illegal. Let us know if anyone decides to sue you over it.
15. Create Your Own Torrent TV
Okay, you’re a file-swapping deviant with no moral center. We get that. Now here’s something that will make your life easier: a free service that alerts you when your favorite TV torrents are ready for download.
Karmorra’s ShowRSS lets you add a feed to any RSS reader that gives the lowdown on the downloads and lets you grab torrents with a single click. You can choose from hundreds of popular programs–from 30 Rock to Warehouse 13 and most shows in between, and watch them on free media players like Miro or Vuze.
Why this is awesome:No more scouring torrent search sites waiting for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire to show up.
Why you shouldn’t do it: You do realize that downloading and sharing copyrighted materials is illegal, right? Just checking.
Contributing editor Dan Tynan’s contract forbids him from condoning illegal activities, so you didn’t hear any of this stuff from him. Catch his perfectly legal but immoral and fattening geek humor site, eSarcasm, or follow (but don’t impersonate) him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.
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