The backstory on the lost iPhone 4

The backstory on the lost iPhone 4

Summary: Some backstory on perhaps the biggest tech leak and scoop of the century: the lost iPhone 4

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Earlier I posted a story about the motherload of all Apple scoops: Gizmodo purchased a lost, unreleased iPhone and proceeded to document it in copious video and photographic detail. Since then there have been developments:

The lost and found iPhone was previously in the possession of Apple Software Engineer named Gray Powell (pictured here with his friend Jack Daniels). Powell lost it on March 18, 2010 while imbibing on German ales at Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City, California. His last Facebook post from that fateful night was "I underestimated how good German beer is." Boy did he ever.

Gawker Media founder Nick Denton disclosed that he paid $5,000 for the handset, tweeting unapologetically "we'll do anything for a story." Gizmodo acquired the handset a week ago and managed to keep a lid on it until its fateful post at 10am this morning. Gizmodo has already logged 15M+ page views today.

The most amazing thing is that Powell still appears to have his job at Apple, despite what is probably the largest tech leak of the century from the world's most secretive tech company. Perhaps it was Gizmodo's heartfelt appeal at the end of its post -- outing him. (Anyone else find that cruelly ironic?)

This post from Edible Apple details the legality around Gizmodo's acquisition of the prototype iPhone. A first year law student could convince a judge that the phone is Apple's property and that Gizmodo knew as much, but since Giz didn't coerce an Apple employee directly -- remember it purchased the phone from a person that found it -- what legal ground does it have?

Edible Apple references this section of the California Penal Code:

One who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.

What's your take? Is Apple preparing the lawyers and gassing up the black helicopters?

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Mobility, Wi-Fi

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20 comments
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  • It's a non-issue, really.

    First off - regardless of your opinion of them as journalists, the odds are pretty good they'll get some protection from that defense.

    What happens next is simple. Apple will contact them and demand return of their property. Gizmodo will then arrange to do so. That will be the end of that.

    It's WAY too late to get the horses back into the barn now, and Gizmodo is a pretty visible group with a big audience to try and punish after the fact. (Even if it can be shown that they've done anything illegal...)
    TheWerewolf
  • Lost iPhone

    Sounds like Nick Denton has a potential problem here.

    If he purchased the phone from the finder he could be an accomplice to the theft. Assuming the original finder knew the the phone belonged to.

    If the finder did not know and Denton did then he is the thief. If he gives it back without an argument and Apple is having a good day he may get off with a warning. If he does not give it back he should expect to see the police with an arrest warrant.

    "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime."
    The law is not the negotiable set of rules that some people seem to think it is.
    lars626
  • RE: The backstory on the lost iPhone 4

    This is total flack with a cutesy Apple meets fratboy German-
    beer narrative. What makes it interesting for people who are
    not driven by PR manipulation is the connection between Gary
    Powell, the engineer in question, and his curious symmetrical
    relation to one Sun Danyong, the junior engineer at Foxconn,
    who allegedly committed suicide after losing an iphone 4g
    prototype in June 2009
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8162325.stm
    michaelwn
  • This helps no one..most of all consumers....

    Part of the excitement and fun for those who interested
    in the next iPhone (or any product for that matter) is
    the suspense guessing what it looks like. We want to
    know what it looks like, but deep down we don't,
    because that just spoils it. As an adult you learn
    this. I assume Gizmodo employs adults and they should
    know it too. For a quick buck (maybe many bucks judging
    on page visits) they have destroyed the fun for us who
    were looking forward to it. Chasing the almighty dollar
    over everything else helps nobody. That bloke who paid
    money for it, Nick Denton - it's people with motives
    like his that this world needs much less of.
    root12
    • Somehow.. I don't think anything's been spoiled entirely..

      Just think back about 2 weeks ago - just after the release of the iPad. We were told that developers had to work with them locked down and they couldn't take them anywhere let alone out of the room they were in.

      So why would Apple let their next gen prized gizmo out into the wild before it's released? They're quite anal about security. So I'm thinking this may not be anything like the final product.
      Wolfie2K3
  • If you can keep a secret, I'll tell you what's really happening...

    It's all a diversion engineered by Apple to throw the public off the scent of what the iPhone 4 REALLY looks like. Gawker media just lost $5000 for nothing.

    Just my theory :P

    That said, I like that design. Finally a manly iPhone.
    callandor87
  • RE: The backstory on the lost iPhone 4

    This case is obviously theft, and obviously unethical. I can't believe there is any question about that. Do I care? Heck no! I want the scoop too.
    roachgeni
  • Excuse me for stating the obvious, but...

    ...isn't Gawker guilty of receiving stolen goods?
    JohnMcGrew
    • Not according to the California law referenced in the article

      It's the part about "reasonable efforts" that leaves them in the clear. Somebody posted the guy tried calling Apple and got brushed off.

      If true, no harm no foul. Apple has its property back, and as for trade secrets--well they're only trade secrets until revealed. :)

      Apple has egg on its face, that Apple guy is probably going to be severely unhappy soon (how many rules did he break taking the thing out of the Apple campus?) but in the big scheme of things this is a 15 minute chuckle for everybody else.
      wolf_z
  • RE: The backstory on the lost iPhone 4

    Waiting for the Gizmodo editor to get arrested for stolen goods.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Oh, please. (n/t)

      .
      lostarchitect
  • it's a decoy

    It sounds like this was a decoy phone that was intended to be "lost". That would explain the ambivalence from Apple about the offer to return the phone and the fact that Gray Powell is still working for Apple.
    docroberts45
  • Story of the Century?

    Tech leak scoop of the century? Please, people, this is a PHONE. These kinds of leaks have been happening on much larger scales for practically forever. Do you think this scoop is bigger than the Enigma breakthrough (which actually involved both brilliant work and a theft?)
    davidt5
  • PR stunt if I ever saw one

    This was clearly done on purpose to get the other phone carriers up in arms over the new IPhone...

    Think about it...if this does HD, multi tasking, bigger battery, longer battery life, etc...

    Another PR stunt to get the Apple fans flocking in droves and emptying their wallets.

    On a side note, I WANT ONE.
    itanalyst2
  • Smart way to create free publicity.

    Given the fact that the employee is not fired and given the
    fact that Apple is known for bringing in the troops like in
    Hong Kong to lock down an entire facility if an iphone is
    lost I cannot imagine that this is a stunt.
    A great way to create free publicity and to see if the people
    like the specs while we see a different design and some
    different specs when the real thing is introduced to the
    market. By the way the flat back surface looks better than
    the lousy back the phone has now. It seems a bit back to
    the original iphone design.
    rhon1
  • RE: The backstory on the lost iPhone 4

    If it is a stunt, then bravo to Apple for leveraging the dweeb base that actually cares about something "before" it is something. Really who cares until it is real?

    That being said, my gut is telling me that this was a major oops and GIZMODO should be chastised for potetially distorting Gray Powell career at Apple or any other tech company that guards there secrets... for the sake of a stupid "we saw it first" story.

    An on behalf of the fan base that looks forward to Apple masterful unveiling of their new tech.... thank you for the spoiler you douche bags.
    jamesaaa6
  • What's the name of the bar thief?

    Why stop at outing the poor kid from Apple?

    Gizmodo should also destroy the life and career of the greedy SOB who took the phone and sold it to Gizmodo.

    As for the new design, perhaps Apple got tired of being the target of all the girlie-phone ads from Verizon.
    kevindarling
  • RE: The backstory on the lost iPhone 4

    You're forgetting that theft is "the intention of
    PERMANENTLY deprive", which in Gizmodo's case is easy to
    prove that they were more than willing to give it back -
    after the over-the-top scoop
    beisr
  • yeah, right...they supposedly chained their iPads to desks, but they

    give this drunk idiot a next gen iPhone to go bar hopping?

    Once again the Apple marketing engine is in play...this "story" is just smokescreen to get the headlines off negative Apple news that has been circulating the last few weeks: the Universities banning iPad, iPad DHCP and WIFI troubles, iPad heat issues, MAC virus news, App store censorship, etc.

    Because, by now, Apple surely knows if they drop the line, the media (especially this site) will take the bait

    Funny, though, that whoever ended up with it tried the camera, "but it crashed 3 times"...I thought Apple stuff "just works"?
    SonofaSailor
  • RE: The backstory on the lost iPhone 4

    Does it matter either way. I personal love to read the articles of new products leaked it makes it that much more exciting when you go to buy it.
    ciera71