Smartphone leaks: right or wrong?

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Last week was a pretty leaky week here on Pocketnow. I say that, not because of the number of leaks that came out, but because of what happened in the leaky world. First, we had an amateur video released about the All New HTC One (HashtagANHO) by a 14 year old whose mommy or daddy had some ‘splaining to do the next day at work. Then the leak wizard himself, Evan Blass a.k.a. @evleaks came on to the Pocketnow Weekly and dove into the depths of what it’s like to be a leak-master extraordinaire.

A set of questions that arose from that interview was how legal and how moral was Evan’s chosen profession? Leaks and rumors are a big part of what we mobile tech geeks love about this industry. I had some thoughts that I wanted to share.

touchpad-100-offMy name is Adam, and I am a leaker

First of all – full disclosure. I have only ever once gotten my hands on some little known material and introduced it to the world – @evleaks style. Simply put back in 2010 it came to my attention that HP was dropping the price of the TouchPad by $100 permanently. I won’t disclose how I got this info, but get it I did, and the resulting wave of news that rode out of it was pretty cool to watch.

At the time I never intended to give up my source and I double-checked that the information was publically available (if one knew where to look) before I let it get out there. Why did I hesitate? Because I felt it was illegal or morally wrong? Maybe. This was what one of those tedious “Ethics” training videos I endured for 8 years at my last job would have called a “Gut check”. Did it seem right? Honestly, it could have gone either way. I felt at the time it was a grey area, but I did it anyway.

Legally Speaking

Which leads me to the conversation of the day. Are leaks illegal or immoral? The first point – legality – I won’t pretend to be in a position to discuss intelligently. I would imagine the actual legality of the leaks depend on quite a few factors. I am going to speculate that since @evleaks, Eldar Murtazin, and their ilk still exist and still do what they do and since they aren’t doing it from jail that the question itself is not so cut and dried. How they have managed or whether or not there is anything to manage, I just don’t know. But morality is a different compass.

morals-and-ethicsEthically speaking

We all can do a gut check. What feels wrong to you may feel just fine to me. Doesn’t make you or me a better person, just different. So I can’t answer this question for you. I can’t answer it for leaking leakers who leak. I can answer it for me and tell you why I feel that way. Fortunately, I’m an editorialist so I have a platform. You’ll have your chance in the comments below.

Intellectually speaking

I’m all for intellectual property. I was once a musician and I hold the copyright of every song I ever wrote. If someone wants to steal them, my lawyer will see to it that I live very well from that point on. So I obviously must think that what leakers do is despicable right? Not even close. My primary argument for this stance comes down to two points, which can be summed up in the following statement:

Leaks don’t ruin ideas – they ruin marketing.

We’ve discussed in the past the product cycle of mobile technology. It’s measured not in days nor weeks, but months or years. Even now an engineer is sketching a Samsung Galaxy S 7 onto a cocktail napkin, which he or she will transfer to a drafting table later tonight. The GS5 is out and it’s a done deal. The GS 6 is probably already having its internals designed, if not already manufactured. So if a leak comes out saying the All New HTC One is going to have a memory card slot – so what? Nothing is going to change the fact that it has a memory card slot and nothing will change in the mobile space because we learned it has a memory card slot.

The only thing that will change is that reporters at the event will nod instead of gasp.

My heart weeps at this news. It really does.

moral_right-way-wrong-way1It’s their own dang fault

What’s more, in my humble opinion anyway, it’s incumbent on the OEM itself to stop leaks from happening. If your junior design intern is emailing out blueprints of a phone’s design months before the reveal, well then you need to fire your junior designer – and probably your IT guy too. But once the information gets out there, someone is going to leak it. It’s not a leaker’s job to protect information that comes his or her way, nor is it their job to not seek out that information. Sure it’d be nice if nobody looked for this information, but leakers do.

And they’re really, really freakin’ good at it.

5.0.2Thieves and Liars

Some might argue that some of these same arguments could be applied to a number of crimes. The homeowner should have set the alarm. The drug dealer is only providing what people are going to get somewhere anyway. They are not wrong, except that the victims in those cases are real with real loss on their hands. As I mentioned before, the only damage being done here is to the PR machine. You’ll pardon me if I fail to shed a tear.

Plus, leaks are sometimes an OEM’s marketing tactic in the first place. They can be a way to generate buzz about a product before it’s ready to show off to all the shiny cameras. So can a method used by OEMs really be construed as bad in and of itself? For all we know every leak is intentional. “Cry wolf” and all that.

Removal of choice

no_leaks

Maybe it’s about the intention. It’s an OEM’s intellectual property so they can do what they want with it, but the junior designer is removing that choice. After all if it is part of a grand marketing strategy to “let something slip” then that is after all the OEM’s choice. When Gizmodo finds an iPhone in a bar and ignores the “if lost, please call” sticker, this is not Apple’s choice and their plans may be ruined by an employee who was incompetent, inebriated, irresponsible or all of the above.

It should also be mentioned that my opinion on this matter is limited strictly to the consumer electronic field. When it comes to other forms of intellectual property – software innovation, patentable ideas, and other areas with a considerably shorter turnaround time – then things become more dubious. If someone is working for a software company and leaks a new app idea to the competition, for example – then you have my permission to lock them up and throw away the key. So when you’re reading this, don’t think that I’m referring to new inventions, or the latest Kenny Chesney track that’s being laid down in the studio as we speak. This is limited to the consumer electronics arena where even if a brand new idea is out there, it’s going to be 12 months away from being consumer ready.

At the end of the day, it’s your call. I’m cool with folks like Evan, and his job – and not just because I’m part of the media machine that benefits from his excellent work. I can see why folks might see it as wrong, but mostly I think the only damage being done here is to the shock and awe of a bunch of reporters who are rarely shocked or awed about anything that appears on a stage before them.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!