12

Following this question, someone wants to "trial for ever" by tricking an app with false date/time. Of course that's unethical (but not illegal, we have closed a few "obviously illegal" questions).

By "ethical", we mean A reasonable person would find it inappropriate for concepts of right and wrong conduct. Wikipedia's article about "Ethics".

Several people are having a disagreement whether unethical questions should be closed. Let's discuss it.

Related on Meta Stack Overflow: How do we handle questions that are potentially or blatantly illegal or malicious?

  • I'm interested to hear the community's opinion on this. As a (former) indie app developer myself, I don't want to see us enabling app piracy, but as a moderator I'm here to follow the policies we set as a community. (That's why I've not intervened in the close-vote you link to, if that wasn't clear.) – Dan Hulme Aug 10 '17 at 14:19
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    First, please don't allege a motive when none has been given. Our site is not about "what is ethical" (taking the case given: would it be unethical if the app you have the trial of is no longer available at all?), and that might sometimes be hard to decide. Ethical "border-cases" aside: what we can decide about is whether we allow questions about specific technical procedures, such as circumventing app restrictions. Note we obviously permit that already for circumventing regional restrictions like downloading apps in countries they are blocked for ;) – Izzy Aug 10 '17 at 14:22
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    What about this case, however, where it is clear the poster wanted to steal the difference in cost of the plans? Both answers even make this an explicit point early. I still resent my original flag's being rejected merely because it raised ethical concerns. – wbogacz Aug 11 '17 at 15:49
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    While it may not be illegal, such behaviour is unlawful. It would violate the Terms & Conditions and so renders the tinkerer liable to civil action. – Chenmunka Aug 14 '17 at 12:07
  • @Chenmunka, could be the case but it depends on the terms. – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 27 '17 at 19:37
  • From illegal and unethical question and response, we learn about the situation and best way to prevent or patch it. The unethical or illegal thing is to use it. that is the difference between Hackers gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.en.html#Hacker and Crackers/HiJackers/Anonymous/... – aurelien Sep 10 '17 at 6:40
9

Leave open.

As long as it does not violate any existing law (tricking with date/time , AFAIK, does not violate any) in applicable countries, we should be welcome to discuss. As per my answer, such tools does exist.

That trick does not involve any cracking or reverse engineering. It makes no difference (to that specific app) from changing the global time of my device. Then why global but not to only one app? What if the OP did not mention "trial period" at all? What if the OP wants to test an alarm app or Trigger's timed event?

It's wrong to judge that "because your intention is unethical, your goal/objective is also wrong" (and closing the question). As said above, the answer may be useful to someone looking for a way to test an alarm app.

I agree that such questions should be closed:

How can I bypass the trial period?

How can I get the full version for free?

... but not these:

I know setting a fake time can bypass the trial. How can I set it?

Placing this key file grants me the full version. How can I move this file to the desired place? I already have it in my SD card.


Let me repeat: It's not hacking. It's unlike Freedom or Lucky Patcher. I agree that F/LP should be OT here for illegitimacy (referencing Stack Overflow's opinion).

  • 3
    "As long as it does not violate any existing law": In which country? We've often said we're not lawyers (and indeed, for that we have Law.SE). Apart from that: What if OP hadn't mentioned the trial at all, and just asked about "fake a date for one app only"? That could be useful for a lot of "ethical and lawful purposes", like testing whether some alarm really fires on XMas eve, without waiting until it's too late :) – Izzy Aug 10 '17 at 14:26
  • @Izzy Let the "law" be abstract. – iBug Aug 10 '17 at 14:29
  • Trouble is, you won't get an "abstract rule" that's clear. For the next upcoming case, how will you argue that it matches? One could say "in {that dictator-ship} this is outlawed" – and whoops! your chain of argumentation is broken right at the start, as you wrote "any existing law", which includes even those of "rogue states" and one-man-shows. – Izzy Aug 10 '17 at 14:34
  • @Izzy So we can simply edit out everything that is potentially unethical, to avoid unnecessary discussion and divergence. – iBug Aug 10 '17 at 14:37
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    Indeed. Or even go one step further and replace/insert some matching "ethical reason" (like my alarm-tester example) – and everyone would agree on lawfulness and ethics of the question :) Side-note: That's what I sometimes do with "is there an app for X" questions, by rephrasing them to "is there a way to achieve X" ;) – Izzy Aug 10 '17 at 14:40
  • None of us is morally infallible enough to dictate what should be talked about and what to scoop under the rug: I favor an approach in which, if one is able to answer a question but prefers not to due to their moral standpoint, they're free to avoid answering, whilst allowing such a question's existence. If not, what should be said about the Reverse Engineering SE? The site still answers questions about reversing software such as Nintendo's (proprietary, hence usually illegal to reverse). Just a pirate's pov. #D – Death Mask Salesman Aug 13 '17 at 16:58
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    Even in case of actually "HACKING", there can often be a legitimate reason of crowd sourcing penetration testing methods to make an app more secure, not necessarily the default assumption that it is being done to rip it off or do something "unethical" with it - which is a relative standard at best. How do you think most rooting capabilities are achieved? SO anyone with a rooted device is unethical? That make sense to anyone? But it involved exploitation and modification of things to make it possible. Often in making snap judgements, people lack context and shows their own bias. – GµårÐïåñ Aug 16 '17 at 20:50
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    @GµårÐïåñ Anytime and anywhere the "ethical confront" is brought up, it resolves in a huge waste of time for any party involved, as ethics are a relative standard, like you said, and a general consensus is not often met. For an example, look at my last sentence just above: I said that I'm a pirate, of the kind that spends quite a bit of their time by reversing software. I do think that piracy is a form of art, just as protection is, and I'd find it offensive to go around and distribute patchers for any slacker to take and use with no hassle. Hence, I think ethic to never release my works. – Death Mask Salesman Aug 17 '17 at 17:38
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    @DeathMaskSalesman agree, that's why I felt that it is a bit of an exercise in futility to try and "standardize" ethics; perspective and context matters. I was actually posting a question when I saw that on the margin and came to read it and as human nature goes, felt compelled to comment. I wasn't lobbying for one way or another, just that we should take as a neutral approach to it as possible. If blatant, it will be obvious, like the courts found in regards to porn, "I can't define pornography but I know it when I see it" - and in those cases, should be mitigated as social responsibility. – GµårÐïåñ Aug 17 '17 at 20:35
  • @DeathMaskSalesman "proprietary, hence usually illegal to reverse"... not at all in the EU. – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 27 '17 at 14:38
  • @AndreaLazzarotto I too am in the EU, but many are not. – Death Mask Salesman Aug 27 '17 at 18:12
8

Unethical for whom?

(Scroll to the end to find my stance.)

That would be my first question. For a die-hard follower of libre software ideology, personal use of a proprietary software could be unethical for them. But they may also extend their definition of ethics on others, arguing that if a user willingly chooses to use a proprietary software than they lack ethics.1

We collectively prohibit questions on blatant piracy not only because piracy of a software stands illegal in many jurisdictions but because there is enough agreement elsewhere that it amounts to theft which jurisdictions and many individuals (barring pirates of course) finds unacceptable. Furthermore, piracy doesn't lead to innovation/betterment in/of the product, neither does it, primarily, gives any insight, technical or otherwise, in the software. It further would cause legal ramifications for our site, so we steer clear from it.

The date-time issue in the linked question is a flaw in the app (no matter if it is prevalent in various apps) and the OP intends to use that for personal gains. Leaving aside any violation of intellectual property (IP) of the developer, I think OP's actions amount to theft if the software is a paid one. For me, that is an unethical practice and I would not support it if the motives are clear or the app or its features has to be bought.

But, what if the app was free for use forever? What if OP decided to see the behavior of the app when the date-time or something else is tweaked? What if the app couldn't handle this and force-stops or produces garbage output on screen? There involves plain and simple curiosity at their side. But, though no theft of potential money is involved, there may be a violation of somebody's IP.

Consider SHAREit as an example. Assume that you don't like the shipped user profile icons set and wants to add more into it. Say SHAREit does not offer one, neither would it in the near future. Now, you decided to take things in your hands. You found that you need not to disassemble its APK to add more images since the data directory of the app has them at a dedicated location. You just added more of your icons there, restarted the app, and voila! objective completed.2

But, SHAREit's Terms of Service (TOS) notes:

You will not, nor allow third parties on Your behalf (i) to resell or charge others for use of the Application (ii) to duplicate, disassemble, decompile, transfer, exchange or translate the Application, create derivative works of the Application of any kind whatsoever or attempt to reverse engineer, alter or modify any part of the Application

(Emphasis mine)

They say that TOS is binding legal agreement subjected to jurisdiction of courts in Beijing. Now, if you're outside the Chinese jurisdiction, you may not consider the modifications illegal because you as a sovereign would be subjected to only those laws your State has ratified or promulgated. However, what about ethics?

  • Are you not violating a contract that you have with somebody?
  • Did you take their consent to modify the app for your purposes, even if non-commerical they may be?

There is definitely a clear violation of IP which hurts their interests over yours.

So I leave this to you to ponder about: just because there is not a paid product involved, do you find the modification ethical at the cost of IP? Did you consider that IP finds its place and protection in Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Now, as a member of the community, where do I stand than?

  • If I'm convinced that product or its features has to be paid for, I would downvote and close vote because I don't want the developers to suffer monetarily at the cost of my curiosity or of asker's. If there is an answer, I would flag it for moderator intervention. Their judgement would stand final of course.
  • If the product is free for use, then I consider case-by-case approach. My very limited experience tells me that developers (Corp./Org./Companies,etc.) often do not legally chase away just anyone any time. When there is considerable damage to them, say brand image being tarnished, or product used for anti-social/anti-national/illicit activities, or monetary damage of some kind, or some alike cases, only then they come into action.

    It is when any of this has been established I consider it unethical for myself to support app's modifications publically through knowledge dissemination. However, I don't find it unethical to modify the app if the knowledge to do so remains with me or when I'm unaware of the aforesaid developments taking place.

    The reason I use case-by-case approach is because I cannot trade my curiosity for somebody's IP every time. Curiosity is my driving force to hang around on this site and post working answers and gain satisfaction and ultimately, end up helping people along the way.

1: I'm neither supporting free software ideology nor opposing the use of proprietary software.
2: This is purely hypothetical. No violation of TOS took place for this answer.

  • 2
    "If there is an answer, I would flag it for moderator intervention. Their judgement would stand final of course." Since this can be read in two ways, I thought I'd make it clear that we're not here to judge whether things are OK or not: we only try to determine whether a particular question or answer is in line with the policy that the community agrees here on meta. – Dan Hulme Aug 11 '17 at 9:50
  • And here comes a question asking our help to break down some files of an app. android.stackexchange.com/q/181219/96277 Ethics is just too broad a thing. – Firelord Aug 13 '17 at 12:15
  • I agree with this answer, as it becomes very subjective very quickly as to what constitute "unethical", as a hacker, I know that what we do can be used for good or bad, depends on what the knowledge gained is used to achieve. For example, for all we know the person wants to know if this can be done so they can protect their own app they are creating against it, that doesn't make it unethical. If someone finds it unethical, then they should just not participate, that's all; shouldn't be closed or censored from everyone else who might have a reason to participate in it, without justifying it. – GµårÐïåñ Aug 16 '17 at 20:46
  • I agree with this answer but the ShareIt example could not necessarily be the best one. That portion of the TOS is completely invalid, thus void (or null, or whatever the word is in English) in all of the EU countries. – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 27 '17 at 14:41
  • @AndreaLazzarotto I've already written that the individual outside the Chinese jurisdiction would be subject to the laws your State/Authority has enacted and/or ratified (EU countries for some folks). I was focusing more on the ethical side of the agreement, not on the legal one. Though it may be so you implied that nullification of a law also nullifies ethical contexts, but I'm not sure on that. – Firelord Aug 27 '17 at 15:24
  • @Firelord preventing reverse engineering on a legitimately held application is unethical itself. But anyways the original question was not really talking about reversing. – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 27 '17 at 16:56
4

What's the intent of OP?

...Changing the date and time in the phone can "evade" the version and trial and continue to use it

Further, they want to know

.... if it was possible to change the date of a single app even by changing the source code of 'App

To my mind, there is no ambiguity around that

  • Is it legal ? - we are not equipped to discuss

  • Is it ethical ? To me clearly, NO

  • Could OP have other valid reasons for asking , which might have triggered this question ? - possible, but if not stated, let's not assume either ways but go by what's presented ( also note that there was no response to my first comment, stating that it is unethical )

Should we permit such questions (not withstanding the fact that a diligent search on Internet would reveal ways and means ) ??

Emphatic NO

  • It's blatantly wrong to judge that "because your intention is wrong, your objective/goal is also wrong". – iBug Aug 11 '17 at 6:54
  • I am not concerned about his end objectives , for all I care he could be doing it aid a charity or impress his peer group. It is immaterial and irrelevant. I am only going by what's articulated by OP in the question and objectively limiting myself to that. Read bullet point three again – beeshyams Aug 12 '17 at 1:31
3

The point on the question from the headline is about changing the date/time in one app, not about piracy.

The whole text is about piracy, and that is what makes the question a bad example for the real question here. In principle, you will often encounter questions with a technical and neutral question, which has one paragraph of motivation which is not ethical. Like when this question would be framed as


Introduction:

I have a trial version of an app and like to continue using it after the trial period.

Question (about date/time settings):

To do so, I would like to change date and time on the phone, but only for this app. Is there a way to do it without changing the source of the app?

While other cases are more clear:

how can I continue using a trial version after the trial period? Any hint welcome, I just do not want to change the time for every app on the phone to do so.

Actual question: How do I evade the trial period?


In the end, you should not forget, that a question about how to evade the trial period in this way even comes handy for the app author, which learns how users avoid his restriction in the app. The knowledge is there anyway and if it is not answered here, it will be answered elsewhere. But here it is visible for everybody, including the victim of the piracy.

So it is kind of full disclosure (in computer security terms) to have an answer here, which can be used by the next author of a trial app to avoid making it too easy to keep using the app after the trial period.

And then there is @liljoshu's point: Where do the ethics begin and where do they stop?

Avoiding trial periods costs the author money, so it is not ethical. What about ad blocking? And finally, some app authors are making money by selling your data. Do you want to prevent people from asking how they can protect their data against apps, which sell your data?

  • "Avoiding trial periods costs the author money" Not quite. First, it doesn't cost the author money, because the author does not have less money than they would have had if OP never existed. At most, it denies the author theoretical future money that they might have gained later. To equate that with cost implies that, for example, my decision to eat at home today costs McDonald's money. It would be different if the author actually incurred some individual cost in order for the trial to be installed on that user's device. Secondly, in order to legitimize the assertion that the author... – Dan Henderson Sep 10 '17 at 16:47
  • ...has even been denied future money would require that OP would have purchased the app if they did not find a way to avoid the trial. But it's entirely possible (I would even say quite likely) that in that scenario, the user would simply discontinue using the app after the trial, which puts the author in no different financial position. Now, if OP were to share the method with others, or if we gave an answer and then OP disclosed the app in question and confirmed that the answer worked, then there would be a greater potential for cost to the author, as it's far more likely that someone... – Dan Henderson Sep 10 '17 at 16:48
  • ...who finds the answer here, and would otherwise have purchased the app, to instead use the answer found, than it is that the OP, who actively took steps to obtain a bypass method, is actually a potential purchaser. – Dan Henderson Sep 10 '17 at 16:48
2

I should point out a situation here.

If an app has some kind of hidden spyware, bloatware, or malicious virus of some kind, cracking the particular app to figure out how to stop it and cure phones of it (especially if its hijacked the phone in some way) may be one of the most ethical things you -could- do in relation to you interacting with apps. That said, I would say attempts to force a certain ethical judgement may actually be unethical from that viewpoint.

0

I agree with the sentiment here, that if someone obviously is being unethical, then the question should be closed. BUT, then the other side of me says, this is all computer science, right? The information that you share to help me hack an app illegally may help someone else tremendously in another way. It's like if I'm a gunshop. A person comes in and wants his gun fixed. I don't give him a form and grill him to make sure he won't shoot anybody in order for me to fix it. I fix it, and if I have suspicion that he's acting illegally I will notify the police. He may be an honest hunter. But if I refuse to fix the gun, or tell him what he needs to fix it, he will go away disappointed and without a solution. So, I'm not sure that we should be really suspicious of possibly unethical questions. Provide the information, and it's up to the person to be ethical with it.

0

From illegal and unethical question and response, we learn about the situation and best way to prevent or patch it. The unethical or illegal thing is to use it.

That is the difference between Hackers and Crackers/HiJackers/Anonymous/...

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