Saturday, August 13, 2011

Brian Hogan, Sage Wallower, Steve Jobs. Guess which one made the headlines.

In July 2010, I wrote a post entitled On a Bruised Apple that contained this comment:

But whether you're talking about Apple's reaction to the iPhone 4 antenna discussion, or Steve Jobs' attitude toward porn, or the merits and demerits of the Gizmodo police raid, it's clear that an image of Apple is emerging in some quarters...and it's not a pretty image.

Note the one phrase "the merits and demerits of the Gizmodo police raid." That is all of the time that I spent on Gizmodogate, or whatever you want to call it.

Luckily for history, CNET covered it in a little more detail:

The story began in March, when Gray Powell, a 27-year-old Apple computer engineer, forgot what may be a 4G iPhone phone at a German beer garden in Redwood City, Calif., after a night of drinking. With the help of friends, [Brian] Hogan allegedly approached multiple tech news sites before finally selling the handset to Gizmodo for $5,000.

Prosecutors in the case say they are conducting a felony theft investigation, but no charges have been filed. Feasel, the deputy district attorney, told reporters on Friday [in May 2010] that police are "still investigating," and that media organizations that commit crimes should not expect to be immune from criminal laws.

On April 23 [2010], just hours after CNET reported that Apple had contacted law enforcement officials about the phone and an investigation was under way, police showed up at Chen's home in Fremont, Calif., across the bay from San Francisco. After breaking down his door, they confiscated three Apple laptops, a Samsung digital camera, a 32GB Apple iPad, a 16GB iPhone, and other electronic gear, according to documents Gizmodo posted.

A little over a year ago, the story was huge in tech circles, since it touched a number of issues. What are the ethical limitations in pursuing a story? What are the ethical limitations in getting someone NOT to pursue a story? Where can I get a bottle of this beer that's so powerful that I leave prototypes lying around?

Time passed, and people started looking at Angry Birds or whatever. But, according to Duncan Riley's new venture Medacity, this story has reached a conclusion:

The team at tech blog Gizmodo are breathing a touch easier today with news that police will not being pursuing charges against any writers of the site over the now infamous lost iPhone 4 prototype story.

More here.

I could spin this as a defeat for Apple. After all, the entire company was pressing for a criminal investigation, and made a lot of noise about it - and in the end, no charges were filed. Paint this as a huge multinational company trying, and failing, to throw some pesky media people in prison.

But was that Apple's goal? After all, if Gizmodo people had been thrown into prison for receiving stolen property or whatever, would Apple have received good press from that? Definitely not.

I suspect that Apple's goals were more short-term - namely, to stop people from talking about the iPhone 4. Now that the iPhone 4 is announced and available, who cares about the prototype? Frankly, Apple should have gone to the police the day after iPhone 4's announcement and BEGGED them to drop the case.

But, as many of you know, government doesn't work that way. Once police and the district attorney (two separate government entities, by the way) get assigned a case, they don't really care what other people think. For example, if a person suddenly becomes reluctant to press abuse charges against someone else, the government is still going to continue its investigation. Similar thing here - the investigation began to take a life of its own, and even if Apple had purchased Gawker Media, the police probably would have continued their work.

Now we get into bureaucratic dynamics - how do you kill a project (in this instance, the case against Gizmodo)? You have some parties that want to kill the case so that they can work on more important things. You have other parties who are committed to seeing justice done, and continuing the investigation to uncover whatever wrongdoing took place.

But then there are other players. There's the guy who plays with his Android phone all day and wants to see Steve Jobs be really embarrassed. There's the woman who was passed over for a promotion and wants to get even. There's the guy who wants to conduct additional investigations at the beer garden - preferably on a daily basis.

Lesson learned? If someone like Apple wants to get someone else (the police task force) to do their dirty work for them, remember that when you surrender your power to another party, you no longer have any control over the situation. Don't believe me? Try a news search for "Apple loses go Gizmodo." Apple is getting a lot of bad press right now, and hardly anyone is looking at the REAL story here. Ironically, one outlet who IS discussing the real news is called The Escapist:

More than a year after it happened, the two men who found a mislaid iPhone 4 and sold it to Gizmodo have been formally charged....

The unit was apparently left in a bar by an Apple engineer, where it was discovered by Brian Hogan and Sage Wallower, an enterprising duo who promptly began shopping it around....

Hogan has been charged with one misdemeanor count of misappropriation of lost property, while Wallower is facing one misdemeanor charge of misappropriation of lost property and one of possession of stolen property. The pair will be arraigned later this month.

But no one cares about Brian Hogan and Sage Wallower (and to be honest, I hadn't even heard of Sage Wallower before this point). The sexy story is that Steve Jobs couldn't throw Gizmodo into the slammer.
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