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Gizmodo’s iPhone scoop is a scandal

There’s been a lot of discussion about Gizmodo’s big iPhone scoop, where an iPhone prototype was apparently left in a bar. The person who found it then went round the gadget sites, selling it to Gizmodo for $5,000 (says the New York Times).

Gawker Media (Gizmodo’s parent company) has made a smart financial investment here: apparently the story has already had 20 million-plus page views. But the whole thing stinks.

Gawker says it didn’t know the iPhone was stolen. That seems awfully far-fetched to me: you don’t pay five grand for something you suspect will be a cheap Chinese knock-off: you pay because you’re pretty sure it’s an iPhone. And if it’s an iPhone, you can be absolutely certain you’re not being offered it with Apple’s express permission. Whether it was lost in a bar or obtained through more underhanded means, Gawker knew that the person who was flogging it wasn’t the rightful owner.

There’s no public interest justification for what Gawker has done. It hasn’t exposed price fixing, or exploding hardware, or child labour, or anything else that we have a reasonable right to know about. Everybody wants to know what’s in the next iPhone, but nobody has the *right* to know.  It’s the tech industry equivalent of paying someone to go through Kerry Katona’s bins or hack into public figures’ voicemail.

Gawker is unrepentant. Of course it is. It got the scoop, it got the hits, and if the poor sod who allegedly lost the phone in the first place gets the sack they’ll get more hits from that. If Apple sues, they’ll get even more hits – and probably more whistleblowers – from the legal tussles, which could go on for months or even years. From Gawker’s perspective, the whole thing is the most epic win possible.

From here, though, it looks like chequebook journalism at its most tawdry. Paying for stolen property and exposing trade secrets to make a bit more ad revenue isn’t the sort of behaviour that makes people go “when I grow up, I want to be a journalist” – and more importantly, it’s going to make Apple’s (and others’) control freakery even worse, possibly with unintended consequences: remember last year’s suicide when a Chinese worker lost an iPhone prototype?

And of course, it exposes some of us as hypocrites. I might not like it, but that didn’t stop me reading it – and every click is a vote in favour of more bad behaviour.

10 replies on “Gizmodo’s iPhone scoop is a scandal”

> Paying for stolen property and exposing trade secrets to make a bit more ad revenue isn’t the sort of behaviour that makes people go “when I grow up, I want to be a journalist”

I think you’re being a bit idealistic and old-fashioned here, to be honest — neither of which is a criticism. But the hype around new tech stuff these days is such that a lot of those who are fascinated by it really do think this sort of thing is in the public interest and are, I am sure, right now screaming through their keyboards about “censorship” at anyone who says what you’ve just said. Plenty of people seem to be unable to grasp context when it comes to matters of privacy and public information these days. You see it in the way celebrities’ “friends” spill their confidences to Heat for a few quid, in the way Marks & Spencer’s staff don’t think private correspondence is private if it has the giggle factor of being about Jeremy Paxman’s underwear, in the way that the names of suspects are routinely illegally released to and reported by the media, in the public’s bizarre insistence that our leaders should tell us all about matters of military intelligence. Plenty of kids will decide that the point of investigative reporting lies in uncovering secrets, regardless of what those secrets are.

Thinking about it, I could have saved some space there by just spouting the old cliche that most people think “it’s in the public interest” means “the public are interested in it”.

> I think you’re being a bit idealistic and old-fashioned here

*sups brandy, strokes beard, listens to choral music on wax cylinders* What do you mean? :)

> I could have saved some space there by just spouting the old cliche that most people think “it’s in the public interest” means “the public are interested in it”.

Likewise.

Aagh, I think I’m just disappointed that cynicism has been the right policy yet again. There’s been a real race to the bottom with tech writing: being first is more important than being right, stories that should fit on a single screen are spread over 22 single-sentence slides to boost pageview numbers, sites paying for stolen property, word farms paying a pittance for search engine-friendly copy that’s heavy on keywords but light on insight… so much for blogs doing things better than the mainstream media. They’ve demolished the wall between advertising and editorial, and I think we’re poorer for it. It is all about the hits, and whatever it takes to get those hits.

Heh.

I’m feeling quite down on my chosen profession today. Here’s a thing: search Google news for “iceland” and see if you get any results about iceland. Volcano effect on kenyan flower pickers? Sure. Hundreds of stories about flights? Absolutely. Anything about the country where it’s actually happening? don’t be silly. Small earthquake in china, not many dead.

Is that not just because Icelanders are rock hard and laugh in the face of mere volcanos? Not much human interest (i.e. misery) copy in a bunch of people carrying on as usual, only with torches.

Yeah, I know. I was being flippant. Some amazing footage online of an Icelandic news crew driving into the cloud and visiting a family living in it. Reminded me of the photos of New York, late afternoon, 11/9/2001.

And, of all the times in their history, they could really have done without it just now.

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