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Was Gizmodo Right To Pay For The iPhone Prototype?

by Sean P. Aune | April 19, 2010April 19, 2010 8:47 pm PST

There have been a lot of accusations that bloggers have no ethics or morals.  Normally I step up and defend the profession without hesitation, but this time I’m having to sit down and actually think it through for a few minutes before I do so.

As is well-known by now, Gizmodo ended up with what appears to be a prototype fourth generation iPhone in its possession.  How this came about was unknown until they wrote up a post giving a blow-by-blow of how this phone came into hands of a tipster to the site. Well, okay, it isn’t a “blow-by-blow” because how it got from the original finders to Gizmodo is covered by the blog saying “Weeks later, Gizmodo got it.” That’s it, no details, nothing. Just that they “got it.”

iphone 4g gizmodo

The only confirmation that the phone was paid for out there is from Nick Denton, owner of the Gawker blogging network which Gizmodo is a part of, via his Twitter account:

nick denton 4g tweet

The numbers circulating of what Gawker paid for the phone is in the thousands, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, but those numbers appear to be nothing but speculation.

Lets take a look at the whole thing.

  • If the phone was lost, Gizmodo confirms that the name of the person it probably belonged to was known since March 18th when the phone was found.  Funny how no one contacted him until after the phone had changed hands, and tons of pictures and posts had been spawned over it.
  • If the phone was stolen, as John Gruber of Daring Fireball says it was, Gizmodo is in receipt of stolen goods.

Either way you have to wonder about the ethics of Gizmodo paying for a phone that could theoretically cost someone their job seeing as how secretive Apple is known to be.

And that is where the ethics come into this.  Gizmodo has received a ton of page views, ad impressions, backlinks and so on, so if the $5,000 price is accurate, they certainly got their money worth out of the deal.  Heck, even if the $10,000 is correct they have more than made that back in traffic, but does that make it right?

I have been struggling with this question all evening, trying to conclude what I would do in a similar situation, and … I just don’t know.  How do you say “no” to a device being dropped in your lap that you know everyone and their brother will want to see it?  You know full well that if you don’t take it, someone else will, but at the same time just because you paid for it doesn’t mean you couldn’t go straight to the company and tell them you have it.

Publishing the employee’s personal info seems like a step too far for sure.  The public did not need to know any of that info, and it all serves to do is embarrass him, and cast a pall over the whole coverage because it means Gizmodo knew it was his all along.

At the end of the day, I have to say Gizmodo probably did go too far, but at the same time I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same.  What I would not have done without question was to print the employee’s information.

What say you, what would you have done?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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