Feds say it’s OK to jailbreak Alexa
The Library of Congress issued new rules (PDF) Friday outlining when it's legal to circumvent copy-protection systems. Among the activities blessed by the Librarian: unlocking cell phones to move from one network to another, repairing cars and tractors, performing security research, and pulling data from medical devices. The agency also expanded an existing jailbreaking exemption to cover voice assistant devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
This whole process is necessary thanks to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which established a sweeping—perhaps too sweeping—ban on circumventing digital rights management systems. The law was theoretically supposed to prevent piracy of music, movies, and other digital media. But companies quickly recognized that it could become a general-purpose way to restrict the use of any consumer product that includes software on it. Now, of course, more and more of the products we buy have software in them.
For example, carmakers have sought to use the law to limit how customers can tinker with their own cars. Blind readers could run afoul of the DMCA if they had to circumvent DRM in order to use screen reader software on e-books. Have you ever tried to fast-forward through a commercial on a DVD and had your DVD player tell you that's not allowed? You can thank the DMCA for that; building a DVD player that ignores the fast-forward flag would be illegal circumvention of a DRM scheme.