10 Things You Should Know About the Gizmodo iPhone 4G Probe

News Analysis: Gizmodo is currently embroiled in a rapidly evolving legal probe involving Apple, California police, as well as media rights and ethics advocates over the blog site's acquisition and examination of a reputed iPhone 4G prototype apparently lost by an Apple employee in a bar in Redwood City, Calif. But Gizmodo is loudly defending its innocence and its journalistic ethics in the face of what could become a painful and expensive legal contest.

Technology blog Gizmodo is in a difficult position. The site's editor, Jason Chen, recently had his home searched and electronics equipment seized to see if he committed a crime at any point over the past few weeks when he paid $5,000 for a lost iPhone 4G.

Chen says he's innocent, and Gizmodo's legal counsel has publicly said that Chen was acting well within journalistic standards. The legal counsel says he cannot be charged with any crime for acquiring the iPhone 4G.
But determining exactly what happened and whether laws or journalistic ethics were violated might be more difficult than it seems on face value. Gizmodo has been forthright about its contention that it acted within its rights as a news service in sharing information about the Apple iPhone prototype with the public. If its account is true, it appears that Gizmodo tried to perform journalistic due diligence before it started the process of acquiring the iPhone 4G and posting details about the device on its site.

But that doesn't mean that Gizmodo was necessarily entirely right in this scenario. It also doesn't mean that law enforcement has made the right moves. It seems that there is adequate blame to go around. And it's incumbent upon us as the spectators to be as informed as possible before we pass judgment.

So, let's take a look at 10 things to know about Gizmodo's iPhone 4G saga.
1. An Apple employee lost it
Although some have said that Apple secretly leaked the iPhone 4G to Gizmodo, it reportedly didn't happen that way. An Apple employee lost the iPhone 4G in a bar, which was eventually recovered by another patron. After unsuccessful attempts at getting the iPhone back into Apple's hands, the person offered it up to Gizmodo. According to Gizmodo, the person held onto the iPhone for weeks before giving it to the tech blog. That's an important factor in all of this. Considering the person tried hard to give the device back to Apple, some fault might need to be placed on the hardware company for not performing its own due diligence.
2. Gizmodo paid $5,000 for it
Gizmodo reported recently that it paid $5,000 for the lost iPhone. That figure might not mean much to some, but under California law, that puts the transaction into felony territory. That's not a good thing. But it also speaks to whether or not Gizmodo should have paid for the product and if it acted ethically by doing so. It's difficult to say what any publication or editor would do in a similar situation, but a spectator's individual ethics must come into play when deciding where the fault should be placed.
3. Apple had ample time to recover it
As mentioned above, Apple had about three weeks to find and retrieve the lost iPhone, according to Gizmodo. The tech blog said that the person who recovered the iPhone from the bar attempted to contact the company to no avail. Rather than hold on to it, he decided to sell it off for a handsome sum. It makes sense. But it also begs the question of whether or not Apple truly cares. Steve Jobs has a proven track record of being secretive and unbending in his distaste for those who leak company secrets. If he was really that upset about what was lost, wouldn't he have attempted to more proactively seek it out? One would think so.
4. There's still no telling if it's really the iPhone 4G
Try as it might to say that the phone it found is in fact the iPhone 4G, Gizmodo, like the rest of us, cannot confirm it. Apple has yet to say whether or not the lost device was actually the new version of the iPhone, and it's entirely possible that the device is one of many prototypes the company is working on. As appealing as it might be to seemingly look at the next version of the iPhone that Apple doesn't want us to see, there's no way to know if it's what we'll be using in the coming months. Gizmodo recovered an iPhone prototype, but not necessarily the iPhone 4G.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...