New on Suntimes.com – More about the Gizmodo iPhone

Interested in what I thought about events that occurred after my last piece on Gizmodo’s Magical iPhone? I spoke to the owner of Gizmodo.com and other principals and wrote a new piece for the Sun-Times.

Check it out. To hell with the boss…this last half an hour of the workday belongs to you.

13 thoughts on “New on Suntimes.com – More about the Gizmodo iPhone”

  1. The “found” story has two versions – found on floor, found on barstool, and comes from someone of dodgy character in that (1) they walked out of the bar with the thing in the first place instead of handing it in, and (2) they are prepared to risk criminal prosecution for the gain of $5000.

    We rely on this person’s (second-hand) assertion that they found the thing after it was carelessly left by its owner. But they could just as easily have observed a guy using his phone in a bar and then lifted it from his pocket or bag – this happens all the time in bars all over the world.

    If the person who lost the phone is still at Apple, and given past reported behaviour of Steve Jobs, then we can consider whcih scenario is more likely:

    He leaves priceless prototype phone on seat, realises some time later he can’t find it. Ooops. In the meantime a concerned fellow patron has found the phone, asked around the bar a bit, sits around waiting for its owner to return, then finally and inexplicably takes the phone when they leave. They guy who lost the phone (or Apple) shows up much later, sheepishly asking if anyone has handed his phone in.

    -or-

    He has his pocket picked in bar, realises a short time later that priceless prototype phone is missing, immediately reports loss to Apple. Returns to bar (assuming he had even left before noticing loss), asks bartender and patrons near to where he was seated if they have seen it, presumably makes a big enough deal of it that people will remember.

    Unless the original custodian of the phone has stuck his hand up and said “yeah, I must have just left it there, didn’t notice till I got home. Sorry Steve!” then it’s very likely Apple have made enquiries at the bar as to which version of events is true. The engineer who had the phone is still alive at least, so make of that what you will..

  2. The piece no one seems willing to address, aside from the fact that it was lost/stolen and kept against California law, was that Denton had the incredible balls to publish a tear down, in the process revealing significant trade secrets that any unethical competitor would have paid considerably more than 5K for.

    The damage to Apple in terms of sales of current gen iPhones is hard to estimate, but probably considerable which is a significant reason they keep specific future changes secret. The damage in terms of competitors being able to get a two to three month leg up on responding to Apple’s next feature set as a result of publishing a full tear down pushes this from minor league to major league criminal activity. Hard to imagine Apple share holders being willing to dismiss this as an “ethical lapse”. This is a significant bit of corporate espionage done by proxy, and other tech corporations should probably join Apple in suing Denton out of existence to put a fast lid on such a dangerous precedent.

  3. In each article I read about this saga Gizmodo is cagey about the transfer of funds to the finder. Understandably so. If I were them I would claim that the funds were paid to have access to the device, not to purchase it, since clearly the finder did not own it so no purchase was possible. In essence Gizmodo can claim they paid to step into the finder’s shoes as regards his responsibility to safeguard it and and find the owner. Gizmodo never acted like a thief. A thief doesn’t publicized their theft, and then promptly give it back when asked by the owner. Whether the finder was really a “finder” and not a “stealer”, probably wasn’t their job to uncover. They’re a tech blog, not Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

    On the trade secret issue, it wasn’t Gizmodo’s fault that the device was out and about. I’m not a lawyer, but assuming they aren’t guilty of theft I don’t see why they couldn’t describe the device and post pictures of it. Taking it apart is another story. They didn’t fulfill their obligation to safeguard it by dismantling it. So maybe they’re liable for whatever secrets are gleaned from pix of the interior and the components.

  4. IANAL but it would seem strange to me if the law allowed a “I only paid to rent the stolen property not buy it” exception. Imagine the loopholes that would create for organised crime. Not saying it isn’t true but seems like an odd out for he law to allow.

  5. Edith, if the phone was stolen and Gizmodo should have known it then my “paying for access” explanation doesn’t make sense. Again, I’m not a lawyer, but IF Gizmodo is safe in believing that the device not stolen, then I don’t see why they couldn’t have paid to take the finder’s place as “depositary for hire”, which is what a finder becomes, according to the California statute. It would be like the owner of a warehouse selling it to someone else while your stuff is stored there. The new owner simply takes over the old owner’s obligations.

  6. If I were Giz, I would be playing this exactly the way they are. And so would all of you. I don’t bemoan Gizmodo one bit. They scooped the planet. And for that, they deserve to make their business grow. Just like Apple did with the iPhone in the first place.

  7. The “theft” angle is not important. You’re really getting off on the wrong track. If there is a legal issue, it’s the trade secrets laws in California.

    Apple didn’t want the phone back because it was “stolen” from them and they missed their property. They wanted it back because the possessor could deduce secret product plans from it. Gizmodo didn’t want to “buy” the phone so that they could have a cool new piece of property. They wanted to get their hands on it temporarily so that they could discover and print a post about those secret product plans.

    Any harm to Apple comes from the loss of the secrets. Any benefit to Gizmodo comes from gaining those secrets.

    And It’s ironic to me that people are criticizing Gizmodo for outing the engineer (as irrelevant to a gadget story), while at the same time going ape over the “legal” aspect of whether it’s theft or not (how is that an Apple or gadget angle?). The engineer angle is really a fascinating human interest story about Apple, about how they keep secrets, about what it’s like to work for them given all their security and lockdowns. Too bad for the guy, but he’s part of the story, though his own bad luck.

    Your hard drive analogy was actually right on. The story there was the expense claims, not the theft of a hard drive. The story in Climategate was the nature of science in the modern age as revealed in the text of the e-mails, not hacking. And the story in the iPhone caper was (1) a sneak peak at an upcoming device, plus (2) the question of how much to protect trade secrets while not having a chilling effect on aggressive journalism. Esoteric larceny legal issues are a sideshow to most of us.

  8. Andy, you use the UK Expenses Hard Drive as an analogy where checkbook journalism sometimes is good practice. But there’s a big difference between paying to uncover something newsworthy that might not ever see the light of day, and paying to just be a little bit earlier than your competitors. This case is more akin to a web site paying a secretary at an accounting house for the list of Oscar winners a week before the telecast. You’re a bit earlier with the scoop, but the news was going to be coming out anyway, and in a way that people prefer, with acceptance speeches and red carpets. Gizmodo is receiving a similar backlash now. Sure, they were the first to get hands on with the new iPhone, but they spoiled the next Apple Keynote for those who like to see these things from Steve first, and they’ll likely never attend an Apple Keynote again. (Apple no longer presents at events completely open to the public like Macworld; they have full control over the guest list at every keynote now.)

  9. I think what Giz did made sense. Let’s look at it, they are competing with Engadget to become “The Tech Blog” and they definitely accomplished there task with getting the scoop on this Iphone.

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