We like to (deservedly) give AT&T a lot of grief around here, but it looks like they have a case in their latest lawsuit. According to the legal documentation, AT&T has evidence of several employees having engaged in a scheme to illegally obtain unlock codes for AT&T customers that were still under contract. Why would they do that? Well, the lawsuit alleges they were taking money from Swift Unlocks, a web-based company that charges a small fee to unlock people's carrier smartphones.
The nearly-defunct two-year contract model that all carriers once used was built on the premise of making top smartphones more affordable up front. AT&T would foot the bill for all but a specified amount of the price in exchange for the customer promising not to switch carriers for the duration of the contract. Another way to think of it is that carriers built the price of the phone into the monthly plan price, so they really needed you to pay for a couple of years to come out ahead on the deal.
One defense against customers trying to game the system was that these subsidized phones would not work on other carriers; that is, they were locked. Once the contract was paid off or bought out with an early termination fee, you could request a code that would remove the restriction.
The scheme as AT&T describes it involved some employees using their access to internal systems to install malware that gave Swift Unlocks the ability to generate the codes for customers that had not yet finished their contracts. Most, but not all, of Swift Unlocks' business is geared towards AT&T customers.
Some of the employees named in the lawsuit made more than $10,000 for cooperating. One supposedly tried to recruit a coworker, promising $2,000 every two weeks for simply clicking a malicious link that would do the rest of the dirty work. Swift Unlocks itself is also being sued by AT&T.
A spokesman for AT&T contacted GeekWire and wished to emphasize that this scheme did not put private customer information at risk. Also, nobody named in the lawsuit is still working for Big Blue, as you might expect.