Gizmodo and the iPhone 4G: An Example of Unethical Journalism

On April 19th, 2010, the popular tech blog Gizmodo (owned by Gawker Media) published an article, complete with a photo gallery, detailing the specs of the iPhone 4G. The phone Apple is said to release this summer. The one that’s supposed to be a secret, in order to create a whirlwind of hype and anticipation over the next couple of months.

How did Gizmodo get photos of the device, including the internals? Apparently an Apple employee accidentally left it at a bar, and it eventually made it into the tech blog’s hands. (Gizmodo’s account of what happened can be found here.)

The phone, which a few have described as looking “ugly,” is likely a prototype lacking the case the end product will have. Its two metal volume buttons, rather than a single plastic rocker switch, is just one indicator of that. It is incontrovertibly an Apple device, seeing as it has an Apple-made processor, iPhone OS 4.0 and a plastic case designed to disguise it as an iPhone 3G. John Gruber, of Daring Fireball, made some calls and confirmed that Apple was missing a unit. Also, it was remotely erased.

Did Gizmodo do the right thing and return the device to Apple? No. Instead, they posted pictures and other details in an effort to bring in the usual massive traffic spike that an exclusive Apple story guarantees. I’m pretty sure that would be considered theft, as well as leaking trade secrets.

Because of this leak, Apple lost the element of surprise. Their competitors now know what the next iPhone will feature, and they can make plans for their own competing phones. Gizmodo has just painted a big legal target on their collective backs, and I imagine Apple will be launching their missiles any day now.

I really can’t see how Gizmodo is justified in their actions. Did we all want to know what the iPhone 4G would be like? Yes. Did we need to know? No. Did we have a right to know? Absolutely not.

Not only has Apple taken a blow as a result, but an Apple employee could conceivably lose his job. Gizmodo crossed the line separating ethical reporting from unconscionable profit-seeking.

  • Jesse

    I couldn’t agree more! I was shocked that so many people gave them credit for getting a scoop, but I see this as theft and destruction of private property! I hope someone gets in some huge trouble for this.

    • Matt

      And to top it all off, they posted another story (“How Apple Lost the Next iPhone”) publicly naming and ridiculing the employee who lost the device.

      To quote @chriscoyier, “I’d unsubscribe if I didn’t already do that a long time ago.”

  • Mir

    Hey, you know what they say, any publicity is good publicity. It’s funny how a misplaced iPhone ends up in Gizmodo’s hands. Wouldn’t the person just return the phone to the owner (since he knew who the owner was)?

    Something isn’t right about this story, but, in the end, I think both Apple and Gizmodo benefit from it.

  • Karl Johnson

    I agree with Mir – it does seem like a little fishy. But could have worked out well for both sides. Apple get the new mobile phone mentioned in very viral way which does not look staged (to some) and Gizmodo get traffic. I imagine that when a users found out a new iPhone was on the way, they held out for it.