Fanboys vs. Haters: Apple and Facebook Test the Boundaries
Earlier this week, police seized Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home computers and servers as part of an investigation into their recent reporting on a new iPhone 4G prototype, which someone "found" in a bar and then sold to Gizmodo. It now appears that the phone was actually stolen.
It is unclear what role precisely Apple plays in this criminal investigation. But according to Yahoo News:
The raid that San Mateo area cops conducted last week on the house of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen came at the behest of a special multi-agency task force that was commissioned to work with the computer industry to tackle high-tech crimes. And Apple Inc. sits on the task force's steering committee … Which raises the question as to whether Apple, which was outraged enough about Gizmodo's $5,000 purchase of the lost iPhone for CEO Steve Jobs to reportedly call Gawker Media owner Nick Denton to demand its return, sicked its high-tech cops on Chen.
Basically, that just looks bad. If Apple did instigate the investigation, it seems like a serious control freak move. Of course the Apple haters love this, but Apple fanboys are reacting too. Take Time's Michael Scherer, in a piece called "Apple vs. Journalism":
I am a big Apple fan. My entire career has been typed into Apple computers. I listen to an iPod on the train. I buy Mad Men episodes in the iTunes store. My employer, TIME magazine, is a big seller on the new iPad. And I do not begrudge Apple its secrecy. But it is frankly somewhat disturbing to read this tale. The cell phone in question was not stolen. It was, according to all reports I have read, left in a bar. Did Apple encourage the raids on the home of a reporter who reported on something left behind in a bar? Journalists are, after all, some of Apple's most devoted customers. Those who live by the app, can also die by the pen.
Or take Jon Stewart, who claims he has been "a faithful Apple customer since the early '80s." In this clip he calls Steve Jobs and co. "Appholes" and says "the whole thing is out of control. He asks Apple, "Are you becoming 'the man'? … Microsoft was supposed to be the evil one."
Some of the seriously offended are calling for a boycott of Apple's products. (Even before this brouhaha, Cory Doctorow was arguing for a boycott of DRM-locked platforms like the iPad.)
Not everyone is on Gizmodo's side, however. A lot of people (including Gawker Media) seemed to think Chen should be granted some kind of immunity as a journalist, but the shield laws in question do not apply here:
"It would be frivolous to assert—and no one does in these cases—that the First Amendment, in the interest of securing news or otherwise, confers a license on either the reporter or his news sources to violate valid criminal laws," the U.S. Supreme Court has said. "Although stealing documents or private wiretapping could provide newsworthy information, neither reporter nor source is immune from conviction for such conduct, whatever the impact on the flow of news."
Which side are you on? It seems to me that Gizmodo may indeed be guilty of a crime under California law, but the busting-down-the-door stuff is a bit over the top, and creepy if Apple is in fact behind it.
What about Facebook?
No really big news here, except Facebook continues to creep a lot of people out with their lack of attention to privacy. According to TechCrunch, Google engineers are "leaving Facebook in droves": "The main issue is that there are concerns that Facebook, by default, now opts you in to allowing third party sites like Yelp to ‘personalize’ your experience, and there are questions about how much information is given away." Earlier this week, the mighty Matt Cutts himself tweeted that he'd deactivated his Facebook account.
The mighty Aaron Wall, however, calls bullshit on this self-righteousness:
Google, well known for their public relations expertise, does not like the idea of Facebook creating an (eventual) distributed ad network based on demographics data. In spite of Google personalizing search by default (without asking), Google opting you into behavioral targeting (without asking), & automatically opting you into Google Buzz (without asking), suddenly they are a company concerned with the privacy of people on *other* networks.
Tamar Weinberg is also a bit pissed at Facebook. This week she wrote a long open letter to the company, asking them to smarten up and address a number of outstanding issues, including but not limited to privacy:
- Disappearing pages
- Not responding to emails
- Administrators have permanent access to accounts
- No way to search for and remove a specific fan
- No way to run contests
Tamar argues that these issues are especially important now that Facebook is serving corporate entities. Either way, some level of basic customer service shouldn't be too much to ask. If your page disappears, there should be a way to report it and get a response and some support. (In the meantime, consider backing up your memories elsewhere.)
And Tamar's not the only one writing letters. Politico reports that four senators are asking Mark Zuckerberg to address concerns about third-party data storage, instant personalization, and other privacy issues.
Have a great weekend!