As many of you are aware, before it was released, someone got a hold of the iPhone 4 and sold it to Gizmodo. They are being charged with theft:

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s office has filed criminal charges against two men who obtained a prototype iPhone 4 last year and sold it to the gadget blog Gizmodo, CNET has learned.

Steve Wagstaffe, the district attorney, said in an interview today that his office has filed misdemeanor theft charges against Brian Hogan, the man who allegedly found the prototype in a bar after it was left there by an Apple engineer. An arraignment has been scheduled for August 25.

The second man charged is Sage Robert Wallower, who allegedly contacted technology sites last year while shopping around the iPhone 4 prototype. Wallower, a former Navy cryptologic technician who was scheduled to graduate from UC Berkeley in 2010, told CNET last year in an in-person interview at his home: “I didn’t see it or touch it in any manner. But I know who found it.”

My first instinct was that this doesn’t sit right with me under the concept of “Finders/Keepers.” On further reflection, though, there are definitely limits to the applicability of the rule. I can’t just take over a car that is left in a parking lot overnight, for instance. So at the very least, there would need to be some attempt to contact the owner. Except, that’s what these people did:

So you recognize this handset as an iPhone—it looks and works like an iPhone, and it’s even disguised as an iPhone 3GS. It’s not password protected (!), it’s running an OS that looks like the normal iPhone OS only a little different, and it has Facebook and other apps running. (Our source says he didn’t poke around too deeply.) Hours later—before the next morning, actually—it didn’t work.

The assumption is that it was wiped remotely as soon as either the engineer or Apple realized it was lost—probably later that night, not just to lock down the features of the new hardware, but to avoid spilling the beans on the new operating system. So, with a bricked phone in hand, an obvious course of action would be to call Apple. And as we reported before, that’s exactly what happened—our source started dialing Apple contact and support numbers. He was turned away, and given a support ticket number.

By bricking the phone, Apple protected their secrets. But it seems to me that morally, if not legally, by doing so they sacrificed any reasonable expectation of getting it back.

Back before I had a smartphone, I had a Pocket PC. They allow you to put a message up on start-up. Mine said that it was the property of Will Truman, here is the number he can be contacted at, and there will be a $x reward for its return (the number went down over time). I didn’t have that message on my smartphone, because I figured that if nothing else I could call it if it were lost (it was lost once, found on the floor of a movie theater and generously kept for me). Had Apple done this, they likely would have gotten their phone back. From the sound of it, they would have even without a reward.

But they chose to brick it.

Finders, keepers, in my view.

Category: Courthouse

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2 Responses to Finders, Keepers, End Up In Jail

  1. Mike Hunt says:

    I think these guys are in the wrong.

    If someone leaves his phone in a bar, the correct thing to do is to turn it in to the bar owner. Removing private property from private property seems like the textbook definition of theft*.


  2. trumwill says:

    They took it believing that one of the group had left it behind. They only realized it wasn’t theirs when they got home. They could have taken it back, but they called Apple, which is sufficient for my purposes.

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