The Ethics of the "Leak"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A tech blog aired a video last week listing the features of the unreleased iPhone 4G after the top-secret phone was forgotten in a bar.

On his 27th birthday, Gray Powell, an Apple engineer, was at a bar celebrating with friends. When the group left the bar, Powell forgot his iPhone sitting on a bar stool, but this was no ordinary iPhone. It was an iPhone 4G, not due for release until this summer, disguised as an iPhone 3GS.

Gizmodo, a blog specializing in the analysis of new technology, bought the iPhone 4G for $5,000. Staff members then dissected the phone and verified its authenticity as the highly anticipated new iPhone.

Immediately, speculations began that the iPhone leak was simply a ploy by Apple to steal buzz from the release of Google's Android. However, Gizmodo refutes that idea in a recent article.

This is not the first time that there has been a leak on a highly-anticipated Apple product. The morning the iPad was released, an Apple engineer showed it to Steve Wozniak, one of Apple's co-founders, for two minutes. As a result of this internal leak, that engineer, identified only as A.J., was fired.

Wozniak told Gizmodo this story following the recent iPhone leak. If Gizmodo knew that Apple fired the person who leaked the iPad, would they have an ethical responsibility to reconsider publishing the leak of the iPhone 4G? Or, in contrast, does a blog like Gizmodo have a responsibility to publish that information when it is encountered?

In the iPad leak, the engineer was kept anonymous, and he lost his job. Because Gizmodo identified Powell so quickly, they may have helped him keep his job. Instead of remaining faceless, he became the symbol of a guy who screwed up. If you fire the guy now, you make him a martyr for Apple. From a public relations standpoint, it's a whole lot easier to give Powell a second chance when everyone knows his name.


Dana Lain April 28, 2010 at 9:23 AM  

This is really sad that they fire people over leaking the products before they are released on the market. That is how I find out about a lot of products that I want to buy and I think it can sometimes increase the hype of the product. If the product is truly worth the consumer's time than a little leaked information will only help.

Julia Robinson April 28, 2010 at 9:32 AM  

I had not heard a word about this before reading this blog post and I am shocked. Why would he be fired for leaking information? I think in most people's minds Apple is the top dog anyways, and I don't think hearing about a new Apple proudct a little sooner is going to change the outcome of it much. I'm sure no matter when the public would have heard about this new iPhone 4G it still would have blown the Google Android out of the water.

Kari.Ratkovich May 2, 2010 at 3:33 PM  

I think this story is hilarious. When I heard about it, the only thing I could think of was: "oops!, maybe he shouldn't be taking a 'secret phone' out in public on a drunken bender!" If Apple was really so concerned about things being leaked (especially after the iPad situation), then they shouldn't allow the employees to have proto-types at all. The owner of the new phone shouldn't be fired on human error.

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