Take Responsibility

This morning my son broke a rule.  He was punished.  Last week he forgot a school book at home.  He had to suffer the consequences by sitting in class without his book.

While as a father I was not happy with either situation, I was at least glad that he accepted the consequences for his actions.  It’s what we as people have to do, no matter what age.

That is why I have lost so much respect not only for the Apple Corporation, but also for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.  The story:

Apple is working on the next generation of the iPhone.  It is of course under strict secrecy for myriad reasons.  In April, one of the engineers working on and testing the new model (disguised as the old model) brought it to a bar in Redwood City, California.  Someone found it and, rather than trying to return it to the owner, recognized it for what it was, and sold it to Jason Chen, the editor of Gizmodo (www.gizmodo.com), an on-line technology site.  Gizmodo proceeded to write about it, posting details of the upcoming phone and its features.

When Apple found this out they sent their lawyers and director of information security to the Sheriff’s Office, and told them how damaging this leak was.  The Sheriff’s office initiated procedures that eventually led to the seizure of several computers from Mr. Chen.

Now: I have never left a phone or a laptop in a bar, restaurant, or airport lounge before (probably because I pay for them myself and can hardly afford to replace technology unnecessarily).  However I have in my day left things behind… jackets, sunglasses, a wallet once, and most recently I think I left my Montreal Canadiens baseball cap at a cafe.  Sometimes I have been lucky, and a good Samaritan has turned the lost item in, and I have recovered them.  More often, they are gone.  I had to go out and buy new, or go without.  (Last week I considered myself extremely fortunate when the Hockey Hall of Fame had the baseball caps on clearance!)

Never did I think I should pursue the people who found them – or the establishments where I lost them – or the companies that made them so easy to lose – legally.  It would never even occur to me to call the police or sue.

Of course there is a difference between a one-time loss of a material item, and the compromising of intellectual property leading to (possibly) the loss of business and revenues.  What I think Apple was most upset about was actually the egg on their face.

Here’s the thing though: Jason Chen did nothing wrong.

In my role as a Microsoft MVP I am given access to a lot of secret information and software well before their public releases.  The way Microsoft ensures that I do not disclose any of that information prematurely is by having me bound by a global Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), as well as product-specific NDAs for each beta I am on.  This NDA is a binding contract that prohibits me from disclosing any information, and threatens legal action, as well as a loss of trust which would mean the end to my NDA days.

In the case of the lost iPhone, Mr. Chen was not contractually (or otherwise) bound to any such secrecy.  If anyone should have been pursued legally, it is the engineer who lost the phone in the first place.

Just to put things in perspective, my son is twelve, and he understands the concept… so why don’t Apple, the lawyers, and the Sheriff’s Office?

Let’s go back to the intellectual property side of things for a moment.  My understanding of the issue is that it is not the physical phone that was the issue (it was, after all, disguised as a legacy model); it was the mobile operating system and applications that were the killers.  Rule number one to having a corporate device of any sort is to protect it with a secure password.  Most corporations enforce that policy by forcing corporate devices – laptops, phones, centrally managed slide rules, and such – to have a password.  My son’s netbook has a password not because I told him he had to, but because it is a member of my corporate domain, and as such complex passwords are a technological requirement.  However even before I joined his computer to the domain he had a password, and when I asked him why he answered (at eleven years old) that he didn’t want other people seeing his stuff.

My son is in elementary school and grasps this; why didn’t the engineer at Apple?

For the record I know that I have sensitive information in my computer and phone, so not only do I protect them with passwords, but I have encrypted my hard drives, and if I type my phone’s password incorrectly three times it is wiped back to the factory settings.  If this phone was so sensitive, why weren’t any of these measures taken before it left the factory?

I have read articles stating that Apple claims the leak has cost it big bucks, as well as causing ‘immense damage’ to the company.  I am not sure if I believe that, but let’s assume that it is true.  Neither the leak nor the damage were caused by Jason Chen or Gizmodo, they were all caused by the engineer who:

  • Decided not to protect his device with a secure password;
  • Took the device out into the world; and
  • Lost the device.

Of course, as an employee of Apple, his mistakes are ultimately theirs.  If they want to look for blame, they should look in their corporate mirror.  In the meantime I think that everyone involved owes Mr. Chen and HIS company a huge apology… as well as damages for prosecutorial abuse, reckless lawsuits, and harassment that he has been subjected to.

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