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Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Did Gizmodo break the law buy purchasing a stolen iPhone prototype?

Asked by Captain_Fantasy (11431points) April 24th, 2010

Here’s the story for people who haven’t read about it.

Apple developer leaves his prototype iPhone in a Silicon Valley bar.
Bar customer picks up the phone and makes no attempt to contact the owner.
The new iPhone is sold to for $5000.

So is Gizmodo legally accountable?

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22 Answers

ShiningToast's avatar

I feel like they are, they had to know that someone doesn’t just turn up with a prototype iPhone. Even if the guy who gave it to them was from Apple, they still would be doing something morally reprehensible by buying it.

Will Apple sue? Doubt it, it would only feed the negative media circus.

Now what I had heard/read was that the bar patron who found the device tried to give it back to Apple (he was relatively close to The 1 Infinite Loop Headquarters). Apple didn’t believe him, so he sold it to Gizmodo. I’m not sure how much I buy that story, but that is what I have read.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

No attempt was made to return the phone according to Apple.

ShiningToast's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy It wouldn’t surprise me.

faye's avatar

Apple would have a patent on all their stuff, surely?

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Its not about stealing the technology that Apple is upset about. Their technology is patented but their trade secrets were leaked. That’s why they’re up in arms.

jaytkay's avatar

I don’t know, but “The iPhone May Have Made Gizmodo Richer by $150,000”

faye's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy I guess I don’t know the difference.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy According to gizmodo, though, the guy made at least a few attempts at contacting apple, and was turned away. Which, frankly, make sense. As they put it:

“Hello, thanks for calling AppleCare”

“Hello. I think I have some kind of iPhone prototype, or something!”


“Yeah, it’s kinda square, and it doesn’t work. I found it in a bar.”

“Ok! Thanks for calling.”

He also claims to have a ticket number, so I feel like that would be easy for someone to confirm, if they wanted to. Assuming that Apple would cooperate, which seems unlikely.

Also, gizmodo claims that they didn’t know whether or not it was anything more then a typical IPhone or a silly chinese knockoff at the time of buying it, and they did make a fair, and eventually sucessful, effort to let Apple know they had it and return it, after confirming the identity. So, legality is very sketchy here. It seems hard to pin anything all that illegal on them.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Oh please. Is there anyone on the planet who really thinks that was not a plant to get free buzz?
So far it has been working very well I might add.

Buttonstc's avatar

I was thinking the same thing when this story first broke before all the details were in.

The other angle I thought about after more details emerged, maybe they wanted to get a “read” on reactions to the changes they had made before investing in production.

If there were enough negativity about the different shape or anything else, they would still have time to adjust.

I doubt Gizmodo is in trouble and Apple needs to preserve their “plausible deniability” so I don’t see them pressing charges.

And, last I heard, Gizmodo returned it to Apple, right?

Had they not, then there could be grounds for prosecution. But as it stands, everybody comes out ahead. Both companies get tons of free publicity. I see a bunch of happy campers here.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@worriedguy I suggest reading this from gizmodo. Rather convincing, in my opinion. After all, Apple has very, very little trouble generating buzz without going to this kind of trickery. And especially when Gizmodo ends this whole thing by saying “Apple, frankly, looks rather stupid now”, essentially. That’s here.

Overall, it may be an incredibly elaborate hoax. But after looking it all over, it really jsut looks like Apple is, incidentally enough, made of humans that make mistakes, and not an entire company of PR wizzes.

filmfann's avatar

I don’t know if this is a hoax, but the result is that I am now waiting to buy the new 4G iPhone, instead of buying the currently available one.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@flimfann Which is one very good reason brought up by gizmodo in the link above. Why neuter their current sales like that? Apple has never had a problem with the initial reaction of consumers to their products. I seriously doubt that they would suddenly change their entire secrecy-filled PR run up until now for some early ‘reads’.

eponymoushipster's avatar


Buying something that’s not yours from someone who it does not belong to is illegal.

mcbealer's avatar

I thought it was a protohype ;)

Buttonstc's avatar


GA. That was perfect.

Talk about newly minted !

BhacSsylan's avatar

That is quite silly, though I still attest that Apple has gained absolutely nothing from this story. But * shrug *

CodePinko's avatar

I believe the ‘loss’ of the phone was a diversionary tactic by Apple.

jerv's avatar

I doubt it. It wasn’t like Gray Powell actually stole it, nor did the person who picked it up when it was left on a barstool.

Additionally, good-faith efforts to return the phone were made by the seller, and Gizmodo had enough plausible deniability here since they were unsure of who the rightful owner was and made reasonable accommodations to return the phone as soon as Apple spoke up and claimed that it was indeed theirs.

Apple dropped the ball here big time. If nothing else, the fact that the location tracking software was faulty (incompatible with the new OS) and yet they allowed the phone “out in the wild” anyways means that Apple failed to exercise due diligence. You can blame Apple or Mr. Powell for the loss of the prototype, but Gizmodo had no way to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were receiving stolen property, if for no reason other that it wasn’t actually stolen and attempts to return it had already been made.

Also, blame Apple for not taking the seller seriously when he called them up to return it before they made an offer to Gizmodo. The way I see it, if you try to return something and the owner denies it’s theirs then it doesn’t qualify as “stolen” and you can do what you want with it. If Apple had claimed it in the first place, then it’d be a different story.

Oh, wait… Apple s infallible. They are perfection personified, so when they screw up, it has to be someone else’s fault.

andrew's avatar

Actually, @jerv, Powell did unlawfully sell the phone since when he didn’t give the phone up to police for the mandatory 90-day period according to California law. Slate has a great article about it.

From the article:

“Gizmodo wouldn’t have paid $5,000 for the device unless they suspected it was a valuable prototype. And if that were the case, they had an obligation under the Trade Secrets Act to check with Apple before publishing.”

I doubt Apple will sue, though.

Edit: I do feel really bad for Mr. Powell, though, and I hope that gizmodo’s naming his name will help protect him from career hara-kiri.

jerv's avatar

@andrew I forgot that CA does things differently. Mea culpa.

Kodewrita's avatar

Yes they did

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