Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New I-Phone Found after Lost In Bar-House of Finder Searched

There are rumors that an I-phone was found in California in a bar. The phone was allegedly disguised as a regular 3-G I-Phone but has new features like a front camera, new operating system, improved housing, and most significantly, a micro-SIM card. As the story goes, a developer was out drinking in a bar near Apple's campus and left it in the bar. Another guy picked it up, realized what it was and Gizmodo bought it. Videos and information available from Gizmodo. Apple allegedly remotely wiped the phone using mobile me technology and the lucky "finder" was served with a search warrant where computer equipment was seized.

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To consider some of the ethical dilemma involved between Apple wishing to keep their products under wraps and the freedom of the press in exposing the new product check out this excerpt from Los Angeles Times (full article here):
[i]n said beer garden, the young software engineer loses a top-secret prototype of a next-generation iPhone. A stranger finds the phone. The stranger sells the phone to a tech blogger for $5,000. And the blogger posts his assessment of the new (and possibly improved, though that's not so clear) iPhone.

Now here comes the neat punch line … only there isn't one, because now the tech blog's story about how it obtained the missing iPhone has turned into a giant kerfuffle. Pitted against each other in this expose-that-doesn't-expose-that-much are Apple Inc., with its imperative of maintaining its property and trade secrets, and Gawker Media, parent of Gizmodo, with its imperative of exploring a company and a product of great public interest.

So who deserves our support: condescending and self-congratulatory Gawker or controlling and obsessively secretive Apple? It's a calculation made all the harder because the new media outlet introduced the oft-corrupting dollar into the journalism equation.

Still, what one (business)man sees as receiving stolen property, another man sees as a robust expansion of freedom of information. We're all the better off when the law bends toward support of the latter, even if it tends to forgive the former.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a 2001 majority opinion (in Bartnicki v. Vopper) that a radio host could not be held legally liable for broadcasting phone recordings, even though the source of the recordings obtained them illegally. "A stranger's illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern," Stevens declared.

It may not be a matter as weighty as war or domestic tranquillity, but the fate of Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple and its products is hugely important to millions of people.

Gizmodo and many other websites obsess on the company's every move. So do Wall Street investors who have turned Apple into a $238-billion company, based on its stock value. So it comes as no surprise that one of Gizmodo's bloggers, Jason Chen, would jump at the chance to get a look at the next iteration of the fantastically popular iPhone.

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