California, Gizmodo, Bloggers ... and Theft
April 27, 2010

The story goes like this: dude leaves his cell phone in a bar. Guy on the next seat over sees it laying there. Whacks the dude on the stool next to it and says, "Hey, your buddy left his phone." Second dude wasn't there with the guy who left the phone, but he picks it up anyway and begins fiddling with it. He doesn't turn it in to the bartender, which, to be honest, would have been my first thought. It's a so-called smartphone, so he starts messing with it. Takes it home with him. Laughs at the guy's Facebook page, etc, etc, etc.

Now the deal is, in California, it's illegal to just make off with found items. You are supposed to hand things you find over to the cops. If, within three years the owner hasn't claimed it, then maybe you have a claim. In a state heavy with small and expensive prototypes ... this seems quite reasonable to me. Honestly, most places could do with a law like that, but of course, the cops are crazy-overburdened most places and don't have time with every Dick and Jane who can't keep track of their damn Crackberries.

Actually, to be even more honest, such a law shouldn't even be freaking necessary because if it's not yours and you find it ... it's still not yours.

So anyhow, little Mr. Second Dude takes this nifty new phone home with him. Maybe he's always wanted one and he just assumes he'll be able to register it with another cell provider and use it even though this phone is pretty famously locked into one provider. Maybe he's mostly good intentioned and he just wants to play with it before contacting the guy and returning it. You know, keep it a couple of days, rack up some calls and some games, have a little fun ... teach the guy a lesson.

But when he gets up the next morning, it's bricked. Huh. Weird. It's been remotely disabled. Gee, that's what my partner did when she lost her cell phone on the ski slopes - called the provider and had it disabled and then registered as lost/stolen so that no one could re-activate it.

Dude does more investigation. Decides that he has a prototype phone. Worth some bucks. So he starts contacting ... well, we know he contacted two tech blogs. One turned him down. This, to me, seems the ethical response. Having possession of this phone is not the same as a few surreptitious photos. There are legal considerations in California ... and certainly paying the mysterious dude who "found" the prototype could be construed as illegal even if your ethics are shaky.

The other blog bought it for $5000. Bragged about buying it. Took the phone apart, filmed everything and then, knowing at this point that they had a genuine prototype (unless someone was punking them), they published everything in a rather flamboyant, gloating ... and completely unprofessional manner.

Apple requested their item back. Gizmodo gave it back. They'd published the name of the dude who lost the phone. They made fun of him. They "defended" him and asked Apple not to fire him ... but they did it in a way to put the guy in the worst possible light.

There have been claims that they tried to return the phone ... but the beer garden where it was found was never contacted. Instead, they supposedly called the Apple switchboard. Smallest amount of ass-covering they could do that would buy them the time they needed to tear the toy apart.

The deal is, this is not journalism no matter what Gizmodo thinks. Perhaps if they'd stuck to the pertinent facts: the tech details only ... maybe. There's still some sticking points of California law, but maybe they'd be able to play the journalism card.

No, instead they acted like a gloating junior high bully - "Well, lookit what we found. And you can't do nothing about it because we took it apart and photographed it and where's your secrecy now, dork?" And to further add to their gloating bully routine, they then made fun of the guy who lost it. They published his name, they used pictures from his Flickr stream and talked about his Facebook account.

They pulled a Nelson and gleefully shouted, "HA, HA," at Apple, at Gray Powell ... and at California law. Because they thought they qualified as journalists and could do such things.

Now, the police have gone into the blogger's home, removed computers, servers, USB disks, etc, etc, etc, because they suspect a felony has occurred. Gizmodo bragging they paid $5000 for the device made this a felony since it's over $990 in value.

There are complaints that Apple is behind this. That somehow Apple is picking on a poor journalistic blogger.

I call bullshit on that.

1) I don't care if Apple did ask the police (or request the special agency) to investigate. Their prototype went missing. By California law, it is still theirs for three years. There is no finders, keepers playground rule here. No one had the right to sell the prototype. At the very least, a crime was committed when the phone was sold.
2) Gizmodo bought a device from someone whom they knew had no right to sell it - if it was legitimately an Apple prototype.
3) Gizmodo bought a device from someone whom they knew had no right to sell it - based on the story they were told. Either it was an iPhone that didn't belong to "Mr. Second Dude" or it was a prototype. Either way, it as not his to sell. Or Gizmodo's to purchase. It comes dangerously close to buying stolen property.
4) After having bought the phone, they took it apart in order to verify that it was, in fact, Apple's prototype and then publish all the proprietary information.

This is not a journalist protecting a source. This is purchasing something they had no right to purchase. This is not purchasing information. This is purchasing a lost/stolen item.

If this had happened to Microsoft, whom I cannot stand, I would probably not be as ticked, I'll be honest. But I would also hope that Gizmodo would be still be under investigation. That the police would be looking for the dishonest and greedy jerk who walked off with the prototype.

Look, if the phone was on the floor and in pieces and no one remembered who sat there, I might be sympathetic to Gizmodo publishing pictures. It's still illegal. It's still wrong, but it's a little more understandable.

But knowing who owned the phone (the Apple engineer's name even) ... and NOT returning it ... and then paying five grand for it and STILL not returning it.

That's not journalism. Gizmodo has done nothing but prove that bloggers aren't necessarily journalists. And in this case, Gizmodo has proven they are unethical, amoral bullies. To now cry because the police have "broken down their doors" - what did you expect when you broke the law and gloated about it? It's time to man up and admit what you did was wrong. Take responsibility for your shady shenanigans and then shut up.

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(Disclaimer: there are plenty of bloggers with the ethics and practices of good journalists ... I am NOT painting all bloggers with Gizmodo's brush. But I think this does show that as a category bloggers does not automatically equal journalist.)

Posted by Red Monkey at April 27, 2010 5:37 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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