The ability to unlock your smartphone may be beneficial to some people who want to switch carriers and take their device with them. But what would happen if your phone was being illegally unlocked, without your permission, using malware on AT&T's computers? Well, if you're AT&T, those actions have resulted in a lawsuit against the offending parties.
AT&T has filed suit against three people who formally worked for the company, along with a business that paid the employees to install malware on AT&T's computers that allowed them to unlock thousands of phones without consent of AT&T or the customer. Marc Sapatin, Nguyen Lam and Kyra Evans were all served this week with the suit papers, as well as Prashan Vira, who owns the company Swift Unlocks. AT&T alleges that the four conspirators were involved in the illegal operation in 2013 when the three employees were working at an AT&T call center in Washington.
AT&T says in the filing documents that by unlocking all of these devices, the employees have cost AT&T a ton of money from the disabling of pre-installed software.
"Unlocking" a phone disables certain software pre-installed by the phone manufacturers, which is designed to limit the activation of the phones exclusively to AT&T's network. Once a phone is unlocked, it can be used on multiple carrier systems rather than exclusively with AT&T.
The software is vital to AT&T's business because it allows AT&T to subsidize the cost of the phone to consumers while protecting AT&T's investment in the phones through term contracts. The software also protects AT&T's goodwill with respect to phones that carry AT&T's brand, because some of the phones' functionality may not work as effectively on non-AT&T networks.
Whether or not you believe that unlocking a phone disables a phone's functionality, the fact of the matter is Evans was paid $20,000 and Sapatin paid over $10,000 for the unlocking of the devices by Swift Unlocks. AT&T did not accuse Lam of receiving money but did accuse the employee of installing the malware to the workstations. Lam was fired by AT&T. Evans and Sapatin both quit.
AT&T clarified that the individuals involved in this did not access customer information not did their actions impact customers other than having their phones unlocked.
We're seeking damages and injunctive relief from several people who engaged in a scheme a couple of years ago to illegally unlock wireless telephones used on our network. It's important to note that this did not involve any improper access of customer information, or any adverse effect on our customers.
The accused parties will have 21 days to respond to the summons issued this week, with AT&T demanding a jury trial.