Universal iPhone Unlocking Service CutYourSim Goes Dark… And Apple Might Be Behind It [Exclusive]

Universal iPhone Unlocking Service CutYourSim Goes Dark… And Apple Might Be Behind It [Exclusive]

A unique service offering to unlock any GSM iPhone, no jailbreaks required, has suddenly shut down, leaving many customers awaiting refunds. Increased scrutiny from Apple may very well be responsible… and curiously, even the providers of the service had no idea how it worked, or why it’s all stopped.

Last week, we reported on CutYourSim, a company that offered permanent unlocking of any GSM iPhone for a one-time fee of $169.99. All a customer had to do was provide their iPhone’s official IMEI# — a serial number used to identify a handset to a cellular network, and often needed for remote unlockings of other cell phones — to CutYourSim and within a week or two, they promised your iPhone would receive confirmation that it had been unlocked, and could now be used on any GSM network.

The service worked: in just a little under a week, CutYourSim performed over 400 unlocks for customers. But now CutYourSim has suddenly canceled the service, and while they’ve begun issuing refunds, the money of an unknown number of customers who paid for an unlock is currently stuck in limbo.

What happened? Even a representative of CutYourSim doesn’t know.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to complete the rest of the unlocks waiting in our queue due to our suppliers being unable to offer the service anymore,” CutYourSim told Cult of Mac. “Our suppliers have told us that there is a possibility that the service may return, but they do not know when, so we have decided to start processing refunds for any orders that we were not able to complete.”

But who is this mysterious “supplier” who suddenly stopped providing the service to CutYourSim? And why did everything stop working? Again, CutYourSim doesn’t know!

“To tell you the truth, first our supplier told us there were server issues, then after that they just told us that they will not be offering the service anymore. We are not sure where the service comes from, or whether it’s a contact through AT&T or Apple. We do know that the service is performed in the UK, but that’s about it.”

In other words, CutYourSim’s iPhone unlocking service was as much of a black box to them as it was to customers. They would throw an iPhone into one end, wait for the light to go on, then pull it out, carrier unlocked. No one knew how it worked, but it did.

The problem with black boxes, though, is that when they break, no one knows how to fix them… or even what’s wrong with it in the first place.

Even so, it’s easy to hazard a guess as to how the service worked… and why it met with such a quick demise.

Although it doesn’t happen often in the States, when Apple or AT&T does carrier unlock an iPhone, they do so by entering that iPhone’s IMEI number into a “whitelist” database that allows that phone from then on to work on any compatible network.

CutYourSim’s contact clearly had access to that database, making that contact either an official Apple employee or, more likely, someone with access to that database in one of the United Kingdom’s five official iPhone carriers: O2, Vodafone, 3 Network, Tesco Mobile and Orange.

Either way, it seems clear that CutYourSim’s access to the service was cut-off because of increased scrutiny by Apple of the IMEI numbers being entered into their whitelist database, sparked by the massive publicity CutYourSim’s received after they began offering iPhone unlocks last week.

For customers waiting for their carrier unlock from CutYourSim, they may very well be out of luck. “For all I know, the service may come back online in a few days, but at this point when we ask our supplier about it, they say they do not know when it will come back… if it ever does,” CutYourSim told Cult of Mac.

CutYourSim has already issued full refunds to users who paid through PayPal but did not receive an unlock. The situation has become more complicated for users who purchased an unlock through Google Checkout, as CutYourSim’s merchant account was closed due to “multiple recent refunds.” CutYourSim believes that Google will begin to issue refunds for any order not marked as “Delivered/Completed” shortly, but the exact timetable is unknown.

The whole debacle would seem to serve as a lesson to CutYourSim about selling a product they don’t fully control, but on their part, CutYourSim remains undaunted: instead of a universal unlock, they soon plan to start selling a more limited unlocking service to iPhone customers with handsets locked to a specific range of carriers. Caveat emptor.

  • prof_peabody

    No offence John but this is a little shameless.

    Your whole article including the title, is based around the news that “Apple might be behind” (some nefarious activity with this company), when in fact you have no evidence of the fact and don’t present anything here other than “it might be” (them). The title is especially important to get right since this article will now be linked to around the world and cause all kinds of ugly comments and confusion when in fact you have no idea if it’s even remotely true.

    Since the company unlocking the phones is obviously pretty dodgy itself, it’s far more likely that the reason it shut down is because the activity itself somewhat illegal. If you’re going to just *assume* stuff without evidence, the better assumption is that something happened with that company or that process, not with Apple, who wouldn’t even be in the story if you had not put them there yourself. The only evidence you quote in the article all points towards one of the dodgy “suppliers” being caught adding people to the white list that they aren’t supposed to.

    Finally, why would it be Apple behind this when Apple doesn’t even *care* if you unlock your phone. It’s far more likely to have originated with the carriers. Apple sells the iPhone completely unlocked in almost all countries now. The only ones they don’t are countries like the USA where the *carriers* force them not to.

  • bored

    boo hoo. stop making apple your god and imagining they do *nothing* wrong

  • Rebelord

    Boo hoo, Stop making comments without thinking. He’s got a valid point, and you my friend have tried to pull this argument down to the level of basic elementary school debate of “Na Uh! Ya Huh!”

  • bored

    first of all, we are not friends. second of all, i agree that he has a (fairly) valid argument, with the exception that he *assumes* apple does not care if users unlock their phones. thirdly, i am still tired of little fan boys always acting as if apple is the greatest entity ever to exist. “how dare anyone ever assume apple is behind shutting something down that some of its consumers may favor.”
    From what ive seen/experienced, apple actually does do this more often than not. Though the article has no founding, i dont think the assumption is that far fetched.

  • Ed_Kel

    You all shut the hell up! Bunch of douchebags I tell ya.

  • MikeTRose

    John, interesting story — but is it truly necessary to illustrate it with Engadget-watermarked images?

  • Ed_Kel

    Ever thought that there may be legal issues surrounding the fact? Apple has obligations to carriers that buy the rights to their products. It doesn’t look good to a carrier that spends millions of dollars for exclusivity to see the “holy grail” juicing up on other carriers. Apple is doing what they have to do in a capitalistic society; covering their asses. Maybe if you all stop whining like little school girls preaching bullshit rhetoric like “What about me?” and “Apple is screwing the little guy” and realize that reparations to the illegal use of it’s product is far more hurtful to them than it ever could be for us.. All it takes is for AT&T and Verizon to say “We will no longer buy rights to the phone because you are incompetently letting iPhones work on any carrier” and Apple loses HUGE market share and profitability.. Think people! Everything happens for a reason.

    To sum up, I hope Apple is behind this.. I would hate to think that a company as intelligent and innovative as Apple is destined for the same failure they faced in the nineties because of shady business practices and incompetence in keeping their products in line. AT&T and Verizon have sole rights (other carriers abroad slowly jumping on board); Apple has an obligation to uphold..

  • Ed_Kel

    Ever thought that there may be legal issues surrounding the fact? Apple has obligations to carriers that buy the rights to their products. It doesn’t look good to a carrier that spends millions of dollars for exclusivity to see the “holy grail” juicing up on other carriers. Apple is doing what they have to do in a capitalistic society; covering their asses. Maybe if you all stop whining like little school girls preaching bullshit rhetoric like “What about me?” and “Apple is screwing the little guy” and realize that reparations to the illegal use of it’s product is far more hurtful to them than it ever could be for us.. All it takes is for AT&T and Verizon to say “We will no longer buy rights to the phone because you are incompetently letting iPhones work on any carrier” and Apple loses HUGE market share and profitability.. Think people! Everything happens for a reason.

    To sum up, I hope Apple is behind this.. I would hate to think that a company as intelligent and innovative as Apple is destined for the same failure they faced in the nineties because of shady business practices and incompetence in keeping their products in line. AT&T and Verizon have sole rights (other carriers abroad slowly jumping on board); Apple has an obligation to uphold..

  • Jerry1796

    How do we know *you* are not behind it, lucas? The writer provided as much evidence that you are responsible it as he did for Apple? You seem suspiciously interest in throwing the rest of us off the scent…

  • Elliot M.

    Good point, Jerry, except for the extraneous “?” and the incorrect conjugation of “interested”. Fix your errors and you might have something worthwhile to say.

  • bored

    issues?

  • bored

    Agreed XD

    I’ll send you a screenshot of my factory unlocked iphone 4 using Tmobile if you guys want.. that photo is ancient.

  • bored

    About the huge market share presumption… there have been plenty of articles showing how Apple’s market share has grown significantly after they are released from exclusive carrier contracts in other countries.
    I would hope Apple is behind this solely because someone was making money out of illegally getting into their system. However, now that ATT does not have exclusivity (it was announced at the Verizon iPhone introduction that the iPhone is no longer exclusive to any one or more carriers).. I think it’s pretty lame of Apple to continue to exclude customers from unlocking their phones OR purchasing them unlocked. I also think it is lame that (again, now that there is no exclusivity) that T-Mobile (or other carrier) users cannot activate Facetime because of Apple’s restrictiveness. Perhaps that is just a personal gripe though :)

  • Paul

    So what reasons do you have to think Apple is behind this? From what there are none, just you saying they could be. It’s not a problem to say it could be Apple, but the headline picking out an “Exclusive” suggests you have more information other than something like “the people offering the service have no idea how it works or why it stopped.”

  • CharliK

    More likely the supplier was some punk hacker who got into ATT’s and has been caught.

  • Omielgato

    I know from a thrust source some developer have the ability o permission to unlock until 200 phones with the imei….
    i thing it was the deal someone developer offer to this inc. unlock iphones for a $$$ and his quote ended.!

  • canard111

    Lucas, AT&T has GSM exclusivity in the U.S. – Verizon is a CDMA carrier which makes their phones non-issues in the worldwide unlocking scheme of things.

  • WungToo

    OK, wow, this really does make a lot of sense. Wow.

    http://www.complete-privacy.au.tc

  • zato

    “since this article will now be linked to around the world and cause all kinds of ugly comments and confusion when in fact you have no idea if it’s even remotely true.”

    You’ve just described exactly how this site has worked for years. This is how you make money in tech “journalism”. Post an “Apple=Satan” headline. Sit back and watch the haters, creeps and egoists load your servers.

  • ianbetteridge

    What evidence do you have that Apple has the ability to do an over the air unlock on a phone via IMEI? I’m reasonably sure that only the networks have that ability (and only for phones locked to each networks). Apple could unlock a phone, but only via a firmware change – not an OTA IMEI-based method.

    EDIT: Ok, found the answer to this myself…

  • Ofer Lapid

    Perhaps you are unaware of the world outside US which fortunately is not captivated by the
    AT&T APPLE unholy partnership.
    EVERY iPhone bought in Italy, Hong Kong, Australia and many many other countries gets unlocked as soon as you hook it to iTunes.
    This happens automatically after each software update too.
    The unlocking is done by a very brief communications between iTunes and the phone while phone is alive so I would safely say no firmware burning is involved rather a parameter update of any sort.
    So yes, absolutely, APPLE does unlock phones which are on their white list remotely.
    I own one, I have the proof.

  • Ofer Lapid

    Dear John
    You wrote: “Although it doesn’t happen often in the States, when Apple or AT&T does carrier unlock an iPhone, they do so by entering that iPhone’s IMEI number into a “whitelist” database that allows that phone from then on to work on any compatible network.”
    I wonder if you can tell me when such unlocking DOES happen by APPLE or AT&T in the US.
    I own a fully paid AT&T (bought at BestBuy) iPhone 3GS under apple care contract, live outside the US and I never was able to convince AT&T nor APPLE to unlock it although I indeed paid it in full.
    So any clue to a precedence would help me argue my case.
    Thanks
    Ofer dot Lapid at Gmail dot Com

  • canard111

    If you bought an AT&T iPhone at BestBuy in the U.S., maybe you paid in full, but you didn’t pay full price. That’s because AT&T subsidizes the cost of the iPhone in exchange for you using their network. Contract-free, no matter – it’s still subsidized. A $700 (or more) factory unlocked iPhone that people get directly from Apple in Canada, Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, etc. – now THAT’s a full price iPhone. AT&T U.S. doesn’t unlock iPhones – I don’t know where that idea came from.

  • Dave Wahola

    iPhone jailbreaks/unlocks are always free to use, so why should I invest $180 in a service that seems not to be legit? It’s not that tricky to google for it and get my free solution in minutes (or check http://freeunlock.com).

  • ifactoryunlock

    Very simple. We released the unlock service like we do many others. Our inside source got scared…end of AT&T unlocks. No nefarious AT&T security or legal actions. He simple made the money he needed and stopped. Has happened before: Sony Ericsson world wide unlocks (as an example)

    We still offer over 43 iPhone networks globally. Some not so publicly any longer ;-)

    Resellers/Wholesalers: http://www.massunlock.com  (original source) O2, AT&T, 3, Telia, Vodafone…
    Retail outlets: http://www.frimobil.nu (swedish language)
    http://www.cutyoursim.com (purchased from a third party but now direct)
    http://www.ifactoryunlock.com  (soon to be release site of next AT&T iPhone unlock)

  • 4stoneman

    You can buy unlocked iphones online or at the Apple store i know because i bought one.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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