The holes in Gizmodo’s iPhone story

Tue, Apr 20, 2010

News

While the full extent of the fallout from Gizmodo’s leaking of the iPhone 4G is yet to be determined, one can’t help but notice some of the glaring holes in Gizmodo’s story regarding how they came to be in possession of said device.

Gizmodo detailed the backstory of the “missing” iPhone yesterday, where they emphasized that the individual in possession of the iPhone made an honest to goodness effort to return it to Apple, especially when he realized it was a prototype.

He reached for a phone and called a lot of Apple numbers and tried to find someone who was at least willing to transfer his call to the right person, but no luck. No one took him seriously and all he got for his troubles was a ticket number.

He thought that eventually the ticket would move up high enough and that he would receive a call back, but his phone never rang. What should he be expected to do then? Walk into an Apple store and give the shiny, new device to a 20-year-old who might just end up selling it on eBay?

This is complete nonsense on so many levels, and Gizmodo must be smoking some serious hippy lettuce if they expect us to buy this tall tale.

First, it’s proper and accepted etiquite that if you find a lost item at a bar, in this case an iPhone, you don’t take it home with you and start calling “a lot of Apple numbers” to see what happens. You return the darned thing to the bar in the hopes that the rightful owner will come back and claim it.

Second, Gizmodo tries to paint the dude who ended up with the device as some sort of noble character who refused to take it back to an Apple Store out of concern that a 20 year old “might just end up selling it on eBay.”

Oh really? This guy was so concerned with the device ending up on eBay that he decided, instead, to send photos of the device to Engadget while at the same time selling the actual device to Gizmodo for thousands of dollars.

Third, if the guy in possession of the iPhone genuinely wanted to return it, why not contact Gray Powell himself? After all, the opened Facebook app signified whose iPhone it actually was.

Fourth, there was no real need for Gizmodo to publish the name of the Apple engineer who lost the iPhone. And yes, we realize that Apple already knew who was responsible, but now the entire world is looking at Gray Powell simply because Gizmodo wanted some extra page views.

And you know what? If Gizmodo is going to publish the kids name, then they should at least have the decency to stand by their decision and not offer smart ass commentary telling Apple that they shouldn’t fire the kid.

He sounded tired and broken. But at least he’s alive, and apparently may still be working at Apple—as he should be. After all, it’s just a fucking iPhone and mistakes can happen to everyone—Gray Powell, Phil Schiller, you, me, and Steve Jobs.

The only real mistake would be to fire Gray in the name of Apple’s legendary impenetrable security, breached by the power of German beer and one single human error.

Oh spare me.

But it gets worse.

In response to Apple’s legal request to get back the iPhone, Gizmodo editor Brian Lam pleads, “P.S. I hope you take it easy on the kid who lost it. I don’t think he loves anything more than Apple.”

Are you f’n kidding me? If Gizmodo was that concerned with taking it “easy on the kid”, they could have published the same exact story and simply reference him as a 27 year old Apple Software Engineer, and the story would have been just as gripping.

But, alas, it gets even worse!

Last night, Lam penned a post on Gizmodo attempting to explain why they decided to go public with Powell’s identity.

Hey man, I know things seem really tough right now. We had mixed feelings about writing the story of how you lost the prototype, but the story is fascinating. And tragic, which makes it human. And our sin is that we cannot resist a good story. Especially one that is human, and not merely about a gadget—that’s something that rarely comes out of Apple anymore. But hopefully you take these hard times and turn things around. We all make mistakes. Yours was just public. Tomorrow’s another day. We will all be cheering for you.

Talk about smarmy.

And fifth, Gizmodo’s response to Apple’s legal request stated in part: “Happy to have you pick this thing up. Was burning a hole in our pockets. Just so you know, we didn’t know this was stolen when we bought it.”

But curiously, Apple’s legal request made no mention of the iPhone being stolen, which makes Gizmodo’s verbiage all the more suspicious. Especially when you consider that Gizmodo’s parent company, Gawker, has in the past offered a $100,000 bounty for a stolen pre-release iPad.

Sixth, and this has nothing to do with Gizmodo, if Powell was able to wipe his phone remotely via MobileMe, why didn’t he attempt to locate it via MobileMe as well?

Related: Apple engineer frantically called bar where he left his iPhone

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32 Comments For This Post

  1. Alfred Says:

    If it were a pre-release, maybe the whole GPS thing wasn’t working or not activated?

    And I don’t think he was afraid of the device ending up on eBay, he was afraid that SOMEONE ELSE would sell it on eBay…

  2. FrankMurphy Says:

    First, it’s proper and accepted etiquite that if you find a lost item at a bar, in this case an iPhone, you don’t take it home with you and start calling “a lot of Apple numbers” to see what happens. You return the darned thing to the bar in the hopes that the rightful owner will come back and claim it.

    Not necessarily. By that time, he had realized that it was an iPhone. prototype that probably belonged to Apple. It’s perfectly reasonable to try to return a lost item to its owner by contacting the owner directly rather than simply handing it off to someone else.

    Second, Gizmodo tries to paint the dude who ended up with the device as some sort of nobel character who refused to take it back to an Apple Store out of concern that a 20 year old “might just end up selling it on eBay.”

    Perhaps, but that has nothing to do with the plausibility of Gizmodo’s story.

    Third, if the guy in possession of the iPhone genuinely wanted to return it, why not contact Gray Powell himself? After all, the opened Facebook app signified whose iPhone it actually was.

    As you note later in the post, the phone had been remotely wiped and disabled by the time he tried to return it to its rightful owner. He probably didn’t have a chance to note down any information from the open Facebook app, especially since he was drunk at the time.

    Fourth, there was no real need for Gizmodo to publish the name of the Apple engineer who lost the iPhone. And yes, we realize that Apple already knew who was responsible, but now the entire world is looking at Gray Powell simply because Gizmodo wanted some extra page views.

    Again, this has nothing to do with the plausibility of Gizmodo’s story.

    And fifth, Gizmodo’s response to Apple’s legal request stated in part: “Happy to have you pick this thing up. Was burning a hole in our pockets. Just so you know, we didn’t know this was stolen when we bought it.” But curiously, Apple’s legal request made no mention of the iPhone being stolen, which makes Gizmodo’s verbiage all the more suspicious.

    An earlier Gizmodo post mentions a rumor that Apple considers the phone to have been stolen, not lost. Gizmodo is just covering its behind in case that rumor turns out to be true. And Apple not mentioning in their letter that they consider it stolen doesn’t mean anything; given that the letter constitutes a request to return the phone and not a threat of legal action, there’s no need for Apple to use language that could be interpreted as threatening.

    Sixth, and this has nothing to do with Gizmodo, if Powell was able to wipe his phone remotely via MobileMe, why didn’t he attempt to locate it via MobileMe as well?

    There’s nothing in the iPhone OS or the MobileMe platform that allows a phone to be remotely located (such a feature would raise privacy concerns). And even if the phone could be remotely located, they would have to hold off on remotely disabling it long enough for them to find it (once it’s been wiped and disabled, it can’t transmit GPS coordinates), which would prolong the risk of exposing confidential or personal data.

  3. Ken Jackson Says:

    I feel as if this is all staged a bit too much. I mean do you really think an engineer leaves his super secret phone at a bar? Why does Apple not try to shut down the actually Gizmodo stories, rather than just requesting the device back? Apple has historically requested sites pull down content.

    I can’t help but believe this is an intentional leak.

  4. CapnVan Says:

    Ken – go check out the earlier post re: leakage. This isn’t the way it’s done.

    FrankMurphy – the individual who “found” the phone had several opportunities to return the phone to the engineer. He had opened up his FB profile. Why not simply post there, as a status update, “Hey, found your phone, contact me at 555…”

    Apparently he knew that the engineer was an Apple employee. Why not call the central switchboard and say, “I’d like to speak to Gray Powell, please. Sure, I’ll take his voicemail. Hey Gray, this is so-and-so, I found your phone. Give me a call at 555…”

    He could have contacted the police – “Hey, I found this iPhone, it looks valuable, I think the owner’s name is Gray Powell, I haven’t been able to get in contact with him, and I don’t have time to deal with this. I’m leaving it in your hands.”

    Instead, he offered it to Gizmodo in return for money. That makes it a theft. He took something that wasn’t his and sold it. That’s thievery, plain and simple.

  5. Steve M Says:

    The legality of purchasing something that is known to belong to someone else is definitely a gray area, and Gizmodo seems pretty shady just for buying it. But the worst thing they did, in my mind, was publicize the engineer’s name. That’s not good journalism, that’s slimy-bottom-feeding-hit-whoring at its best.

    I used to enjoy Gizmodo’s live blogs from Apple events, but I don’t think I’ll ever visit their site again, even if Apple somehow decides to let them stop by. Gizmodo is a trashy rag of a site in my eyes, with no integrity whatsoever, and they won’t be getting my page views anymore.

  6. Kevin Says:

    At the least, Gizmodo should also publish the name of the thief who sold them the phone.

    It’s not fair to single out Powell, and not also screw up the other guy’s life!

  7. Janey Says:

    They didn’t even have to call ANYBODY! These guys know exactly where Apple is located. It is no secret whatsoever. They could have simply taken the device and driven over to Apple and talked with someone at the front desk. It’s open and you don’t need a badge to walk in the front door.

    But no, then they couldn’t get the big scoop on the new iPhone story and profit from it. If you’re trying to return a phone that you found, you don’t TAKE IT APART either.

    I hope Apple runs them through the ringer in this case and I have lost a lot of respect for Gizmodo. This is just plain theft.

  8. Ken Jackson Says:

    @Capn, I get that this is not the way leaks usually happen, but this is Apple — they think different.

    With that said, Powell didn’t seem to do the normal things I’d think someone would do if they lost their phone. Like the first thing is to call the phone.

    And maybe its living in the Valley, but if someone found a phone up here, no one would think — “Gizmodo!”. Furthermore, no one would even think, “Hmmm… front facing camera — this isn’t like the 3GS”.

    And lastly, why hasn’t Apple demanded the contents of the page to be taken down? Apple has down with far more harmless info. Apple seems to be playing along with the game by just confirming the phone is theirs. At this point Gizmodo probably has no more use for the phone anyways.

  9. Ken Jackson Says:

    @Janey, I don’t think taking the phone apart is the issue. Taking apart devices is a known and established tech news practice. The real question is simply did they know they were buying stolen goods. The other question I would have (assuming this isn’t staged) is if your intent is to return the item to the owner, does that change the impact of buying stolen goods?

    For example, if someone steals the Mona Lisa, and offers it to me for $20 (I can’t afford much more), is it poor judgment for me to buy it to return it to the Louvre? Then of course, the next question is, what can I do with the Mona Lisa between when I bought it and return it? Can I take pictures of it? Can I write a blog post about the makeup of its surface?

  10. L K Neutz Says:

    A Fishy Story indeed…
    The Apple Iphone that was lost near Apple headquarters could have been easily found and retrieved, but Apple left it out in the wild hoping attract some attention. Like a fishing lure, it was slowly dragged across the Internet until April, 20th when it hit the National News. Why do I think it was a media stunt…. read on.

    I recently lost my Iphone at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in Northern California, and by luck or dumb luck, I had signed up for “Mobile me” the week before. I was able to sign in and see that my phone was not lost high up on the mountain, but lurking somewhere around the lodge. I did panic when I was able to see that it was taken to the parking lot and was in one of the cars. I sent messages to the phone saying, ” Please bring this phone to the lost and found”, and it played the irritating “sonar” sound for 2 minutes. I sent 4 messages then remotely locked my phone with a new pin number. After 2 hours, I was finally reunited with my phone. The point being that Mobile me works pretty well for locating your phone and communicating messages to the phone even when it’s locked.

    My point is that Gray Powell, the Apple engineer, had the same technology at his fingertips. He could see the phones GPS location using the Mobile me “Iphone Locator” and send the Phone messages. If I found a phone and and someone offered a reward of $100, I would try to get it back to it’s owner. I sure it would have cost Gray a lot more if he was actually fired. A hundred buck would be nothing to get back top secret technology. But Gray, didn’t send messages to the phone or track it to home of the person who either stole or found the secret phone. Gray could have knocked of the door and said, ” Hey, I lost an Iphone at Gourmet Haus Staudt….Did you find it?” But I am guessing that Gray sometime the next day, realizing his phone was gone, logged in, and killed the phones software sending it to “brick mode”, untrackable and unable to receive messages.

    If Gray had applied a pin code of 4 numbers, there would have been 10,000 permutations of the pin code to get back into the phone. At 4 seconds per try, it would take a determined person on average 5.5 hours to hit the right pin with a maximum time of 11 hours. They could have remotely changed they pin every few hours to thwart anyone from cracking the pin, although you can make the phone non-findable in the settings once you were “in” or set the phone in “airline mode” So, Gray probably made the right choice not to put a pin on the lost phone, but by doing so he could no longer track the phone. One would think, if you could track it, a company as influential as Apple, could get the assistance of the local law enforcement to arrive at the door of “the finder” and demand the phone. But, Apple chose to “brick” it a let if be examined by Gizmodo, the question of the day is…why?

    The only conclusion would be that they wanted the phone found to add hype to it’s future release in mid June. Yup, it’s been confirmed that AT&T has canceled vacations in June and Apple has booked the Yerba Buena Center which indicates the immanent release of something big. But the circus atmosphere by letting the phone be found and confirmed by the April 19th letter from Senior Executive Bruce Sewell indicates that Apple wants us to see the phone but not the software. They could have found the phone easily in the first 24 hours, but chose to let it get to the National News Media before they reeled it back in, and just like a million hungry fish, the lure Apple used got our attention.

  11. CapnVan Says:

    @Steve M: “The legality of purchasing something that is known to belong to someone else is definitely a gray area”.

    No, it’s not gray at all – it’s sharply defined. As receiving stolen goods, a crime.

    @Ken Jackson: “The other question I would have (assuming this isn’t staged) is if your intent is to return the item to the owner, does that change the impact of buying stolen goods?”

    Where was the intent on Gizmodo’s part to return? They demanded a formal letter before agreeing to return it. I don’t see any intention there at all. If anything, they were being deliberate in demanding a letter which offers additional authentication to their story.

  12. Ken Jackson Says:

    @CapnVan, I’d also request a formal letter if I received some secret gadget. Why? To be sure that it is in fact your device. Or ask for something that only the creator of the device would know about. In theory this device could belong to a manufacturer that was considering its own version of the iPhone, ala Psystar.

    Before you hand over anything of value, you always should demand proof of ownership. A letter from general counsel is pretty good proof. I don’t think asking for proof means you don’t intend on returning it. In fact I think it proves the opposite.

  13. AAPLCare Says:

    “There’s nothing in the iPhone OS or the MobileMe platform that allows a phone to be remotely located (such a feature would raise privacy concerns). ”

    Please do some research before posting something so obviously wrong. That prototype may not have had the ability, but current iPhones with MobileMe certainly do. Try Googling “Find my iPhone” as a start.

  14. iLuvNeXT Says:

    « If Gray had applied a pin code of 4 numbers, there would have been 10,000 permutations of the pin code to get back into the phone. At 4 seconds per try, it would take a determined person on average 5.5 hours to hit the right pin with a maximum time of 11 hours. »
    The PIN is not used for any encryption whatsoever, a mobile-phone-tech-savy person could know how to reset the PIN. No need for brute-force and especially no need for manual brute-force (seriously?!).

  15. Ben Hebert Says:

    I really thought that the iPhone was leaked on purpose by apple. It has turned the interweb upside down and thrown everyone off their tracks of what could really be coming. Maybe they’re trying to fight off competitors?

    I posted my thoughts over on my blog let me know what you think

  16. Christopher Says:

    $100,000 for an iPad???, the kid who found the iPhone 4 should have asked for more than $10K.

  17. indigo80 Says:

    If they’d referenced him as ’27 year old software engineer’ there’s a greater chance that an anonymous ’27 year old software engineer’ out their looking for a job.

  18. AAPLCare Says:

    “If Gray had applied a pin code of 4 numbers, there would have been 10,000 permutations of the pin code to get back into the phone. At 4 seconds per try, it would take a determined person on average 5.5 hours to hit the right pin with a maximum time of 11 hours.”

    Or he may have known about the setting on iPhones that erases the contents of the phone after just 10 failed attempts.

  19. AppleCult Says:

    Moron. Apple already knew, so by “outing” the guy they’ve put the PR fallout squarely on Apple. If Apple fires the guy they look bad AND remove whatever slim deniability of it being a prototype they may still have.

  20. Dude Says:

    This post is absolute garbage.

    What does Gizmodo posting his name have to do with him being fired? You imply that if Gizmodo did not want him fired, they wouldn’t have published his name, but the two have NOTHING to do with each other.

    The fact is that Gizmodo was doing what they’re supposed to do – be reporters.

    Whoever wrote this post needs to learn how to analyze facts before they go off spewing garbage.

  21. Jazzy11 Says:

    Someone found it.
    First they wanted to return it.
    Then they had another drink.
    Then they decided to profit off it.

    Been happening since dawn of man.

    Duh,

    _Jazzy

  22. Greg Andrew Says:

    Ken – Apple has no legal basis to ask Gizmodo to take the stories done. In previous cases where Apple has demanded information be taken down, that information came from inside Apple, from people who had signed non-disclosure agreements. Nothing similar has happened in this case. no one has passed on any “trade secrets” that they were obliged not to, and no one stole anything from Apple itself. While some of what was done may have been illegal, if the gentleman who found the phone had just examined it and photographed it when he found it and then posted the story online himself, he would have been totally in the clear.

  23. Benjamin Says:

    What’s the name of the douche bag that didn’t return the iPhone to the owner or leave the iPhone at the bar for later pickup. I left my iPhone accidentally at the gym before and was never able to recover it (this was prior to Apple’s find my iPhone feature).

  24. Oscar Says:

    Well rebutted “FrankMurphy.”

    Apple lost it. Regrettable that names were released. I’m sure if the phone’s OS was killed, Apple might’ve had the opportunity to call the phone and reclaim their phone, at whatever cost was involved, without having Gizmodo to deal with.

  25. Brad Says:

    One other detail you missed… when Gizmodo originally posted their reply to Apple’s request for the phone back, the closing line was “I don’t think he loves anything more than Apple except, well, beer.”

    People in the comments got mad at Gizmodo for being snarky, so Gizmodo deleted the comments and edited their letter. Well…. they edited it on their US site. You can still see it in it’s original state at the Australian version of the link.

    http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2010/04/a-letter-apple-wants-its-secret-iphone-back/

  26. Michael Irie Says:

    Mmmmmmmm… Hippy Lettuce ;-)

  27. Gizmodo are posting comments here Says:

    Trying to change the tone. Gizmodo are the idiots here.

    They pushed this guys details SOLELY to make page views on their stupid spam laden site.

    I am glad they will be the only website not covering the summer iPhone launch.

    They will whine and use all of this to get attention for their pathetic blog, and try and turn the tables on Apple, calling them evil for going after them.

    Fuck you gizmodo, you outed the guy for CASH, you accessed his facebook account, and used that to profit on your lame, crap site. Now you try and turn it around and say it is to not get him fired. “Fuck you” doesn’t even begin to cover the extent of how pathetic and leeching you all are.

    Fuck gawker network crap.

  28. JG Says:

    Dead on.

    A guy sitting next to me in the airport left his iPhone on the seat between us as boarding was called. I did what any normal and honest person would do: ran after him and gave him his iPhone back. The back-up plan was to turn it in with the gate agent for the flight he was boarding. No brainer.

    You don’t keep the phone and try to muck with it or go off on some tangent that trivially looks like a exploit for personal gain. That’s theft and/or aiding-and-abetting a theft.

    Gizmodo definitely broke CA trade secrets laws and theft/stolen property laws. They should have the legal book thrown at them. Clearly Gizmodo employees are dishonest and unethical through and through.

  29. T Says:

    I like Gray’s Myspace background.

    It’s a Microsoft Zune theme. Wonder if he really put it there or someone hacked his account? LOL

  30. Roflmao Says:

    To everybody who is crying about gizmodo publishing this guy’s name in the iPhone 4G article, Do you think that apple would have never found out who had lost their precious prototype phone? do you think that people will card him at the bars or groceries and haze him from now on? He will not have tomatoes thrown at him while he walks down the street… and in the end, if he gets fired, he gets what he deserved. If you were entrusted with a flashy apple product that the public hasn’t seen before, and your duty was to rigorously test it’s functionality, would you bring it out with you for a night at the bars?

    Gizmodo is in NO WAY responsible for this “leak”.

  31. Tony Says:

    This isn’t the slightest bit pretentious.. all things aside, what would the author of this piece do in that situation. I mean sure it didn’t happen to you so its easy to say that you would do the honorable thing and return it to an Apple store.. but had you actually come across this thing, the one device so many fanbois are waiting for they’d simply piss themselves over holding and playing with, would you have not gone public with it?

  32. Precious.... Says:

    Golem-modo are effed. Disregarding their sloppy-ass story about the good Samaritan who found the phone, they posted on their own blog that it was a confirmed Apple prototype that was to remain secret; “How Apple Conceals Prototype iPhones”, so on.

    Also: “The guts, the definitive proof-
    And finally, when we opened it up, we saw multiple components that were clearly labeled APPLE. And, because the components were fit extremely well and extremely conformed inside the case (obvious that it was designed FOR this case), it was evident that it was not just a 3G or a 3GS transplanted into another body. That probably wouldn’t even be possible, with the size constraints of the thinner device and larger battery.”

    Gizmodo, as self-proclaimed owner/finder of the phone, were responsible for returning the item since, by law, they KNEW who owned it (again, Apple’s, not a production/public model) and still took the time to write multiple blogs which still persist to this day, thereby destroying the marketing pole-position that Apple would have had by right and law.

    As of today, Golem-modo has repeatedly posted biased blogs and articles to gain public support over their “journalistic” revelations of “precious” confidential trade secrets. They KNEW what it was and still opted to try to work through the cracks and loopholes rather than return something that WAS NOT THEIRS to reveal. Only slimy bastards would try to work around laws to service their own needs. They did no public service. Nothing was revealed to support justice or bring criminals to attention.

    Fried.

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