Stop the Noiz

Gizmodo and the iPhone Prototype: Putting the Shoe on the Other Foot

Frank Fox - 2010.05.04 - Tip Jar

When Gizmodo acquired the "lost" iPhone, they thought it was all great fun to post pictures and details for the world to see - but when they had their computers taken, they think it very wrong for someone to go looking through them.

Imagine This

Let's imagine a similar but slightly different scenario. Gizmodo editor Jason Chen forgets his laptop at a local café. When he goes back to find it, it is gone. The café owner doesn't have it.

Technically, he lost it. He wasn't robbed so there isn't a crime to report to the police yet. The most he can do is check back at the café to see if it gets turned in later.

Meanwhile, the person who found his laptop is busy calling the laptop manufacture looking for the owner. Too bad they can't help him. Instead, the "finder" decides to find out which website that will pay the most for it.

The site that buys the laptop wants to make their money back. So they search through the computer and find out who owned it. They gather personal and financial information, etc. Then, for fun - and especially for site traffic - they post all these details. Instead of returning the laptop, they demand a printed letter from the owner, which they also post.

At the end of the day, the laptop is returned, but the damage is already done. All the personal and financial information is making its way around the Internet. People are accessing his bank accounts, etc.

The owners of the website claim that no harm was done - after all, the laptop was returned.

I'm not sure that the Jason Chen would feel the same in that situation.

Protecting Journalists

Now the lawyers at EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) want to claim journalistic protection for those who plastered the personal information to the Web. They think that even if they committed a crime, they should be free from search warrants.

The police come along with a warrant and break into the blogger's home to gather evidence. This is hyped up as a plot by Jason Chen to get revenge. The truth is much simpler: Cops don't trust criminals to leave evidence alone. Every cop show I watch has the police busting into the homes of drug dealers, murders, gang member, etc. They like to get the evidence secured quickly and get the arrest(s) done. They don't need Jason Chen's permission to gather evidence if a crime has been committed.

To gather evidence, they need a warrant. They get this from a judge. The blogger, Jason Chen, and your second cousin have nothing to do with this process. This is done through the courts and is handled by our legal system.

I will say this for real cops (not those on TV). They do try to get your stolen goods returned. I've had my motorcycle stolen, and the police officer actually helped me push it back home. Cops will help the average person, just like they will help a big corporation. You can't believe all the bad news on TV as being true for all cops.

Chen's Laptop and Apple's Prototype

Luckily for Jason Chen, he didn't loose his laptop to some sleazy blogger who would post all of his personal information on the Internet for fun and profit.

Instead, Chen's laptop is in the hands of the police, who will follow due process and search it or return it as the law allows. At the end of the day, if innocent, he's lost nothing more than access to his computers.*

Apple is not so lucky. Even though Gizmodo returned the iPhone prototype, the damage is done. The details were leaked, so the surprise that Apple wants when releasing a new product is gone. They can't get it back.

Gizmodo has cost Apple far more than the $5,000 they paid for the prototype iPhone.

Marketing and publicity cost money. Apple uses the publicity generated from a new product release to save on marketing costs, and they spend it elsewhere. The value may be hard to estimate, but it cannot be ignored in judging Gizmodo's actions. They cashed in on this publicity themselves with all the hits their site got.

Jason Chen is none to happy to have the shoe on the other foot. Lawyers are coming out to protest the taking of his property. They may be right, but this was done legally with a warrant.

Compared to what he's done to Apple's, he's gotten off easy so far. LEM

* Editor's note: The police didn't just take Jason Chen's laptop or his business computer. They took every computer in the house (four personal computers plus two servers), external backup drives, USB flash drives, an iPhone, an iPad, two digital cameras, a Motorola cell phone, and an AirPort Extreme hub. Chen hasn't simply lost access to his laptop for a while; he and his wife have lost access to all of their computers, data on their backup drives, mobile phones, digital cameras, and more. It's very likely that some of this material is irreplaceable, so I hope that the Chens will get everything back as soon as the law allows. dk

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