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Newsletter Issue #546

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

Since the only new Apple product in recent weeks is that MacBook Pro refresh, I suppose it’s understandable that the media is mostly focused on other issues. I mean, they still can’t stop talking about Apple, and the ongoing drama about that lost or stolen iPhone prototype, plus a similar incident involving another product sample, has filled the blogosphere and traditional media with loads of stories and commentaries. It’s the gossip monger’s dream.

Add to that the global conflict between Apple and Adobe about the future of Flash, and you just know that Apple doesn’t have to invest a dime in advertising. They hardly need corporate communications people, although, knowing some of them, I don’t wish to see them unemployed. But you can see what fueled much of the discussions in recent weeks.

But I didn’t want to restrict my interviews to just those subjects. So on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, prolific author Joe Kissell came aboard to talk about his latest e-books from the Take Control Books series covering Apple Mail for Snow Leopard, how to control spam, and the special versions of Mail for the iPhone and iPad.

Rob-ART Morgan, from BareFeats, covered his latest benchmarks, with the main focus on Apple’s new generation of MacBook Pros, and also whether the iPad can actually replace a note-book computer for at least some of you.

And then cutting edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, delivered an update on the ongoing war between Apple and Adobe over Flash and then gave you his unique views about whether HP’s acquisition of Palm will actually deliver successful smartphones and perhaps a tablet PC.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien welcomes UFO historian Antonio Huneeus, co-author of the Laurance Rockefeller-funded “UFO Briefing Document — The Best Available Evidence.” He has covered the UFO field from an international perspective for over 30 years and we will examine the significance of historical UFO reports from around the world.

Coming May 23: Co-host Paul Kimball presents author and TV personality Nick Pope, who used to run the British Government’s UFO Project. You’ll hear Nick’s views about ongoing disclosures of UFO evidence by the UK government, significant UFO cases and lots more.

Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

HOW ABOUT LAW & ORDER: SILICON VALLEY?

With the announcement this week that the long-running TV series, “Law & Order,” would fade away and be replaced by a version focused on Los Angeles rather than New York City, you have to wonder whether that’s the right city for a weekly crime procedural. After all, it seems the biggest story of all is playing out in Apple’s backyard, and the nasty details may even be fodder for a TV movie at the very least.

Certainly that ongoing soap opera about a certain prototype iPhone and its infamous path has garnered an incredible amount of attention in both the tech and mainstream media. Let’s not forget that the motto of Law & Order was “ripped from the headlines,” and clearly there are plenty of those to be found about this unfortunate episode.

Now, with the disclosure of the search warrant document used as the justification to allow the authorities to seize computers and other gear from the home of Gizmomo editor Jason Chen, a clear picture has begun to emerge over what might have actually happened.

Understand that I have already gone on record as suggesting that the episode wasn’t the result of the accidental loss of a prototype iPhone, but was a sting operation designed to ensnare potential evildoers who dare seek out and disclose Apple’s trade secrets. Nothing in the affidavit would appear to confirm that viewpoint, but it’s not as if the possibly is disproven, since that information would likely not come out until an actual trial or evidentiary hearing is held.

You see, after watching Law & Order for 20 years, I can begin to really mix it up when it comes to spouting legal mumbo-jumbo.

In any case, you still have to realize that the affidavit is strictly the prosecution’s version of the case, but some of the information appears fascinating nonetheless. According to Robert “Gray” Powell, the Apple engineer who “lost” that prototype iPhone, the unit had been stored in his carrying bag when he had dinner with his uncle at a restaurant in Redwood City, CA.

According to the affidavit, Powell says the bag was knocked down at one point, which is perhaps where the prototype, camouflaged in an iPhone 3GS case, may have fallen out. It is just as likely that someone actually removed the gadget from the bag when Powell made a bathroom visit.

Regardless of where the truth lies, it would appear that it wasn’t Powell’s fault, though I grant he would have been better advised to take his case with him wherever he went, including the bathroom, as a proper security measure. That’s what I do when I’m at the airport, even with a friend or family member around. My carry-on luggage stays with me, and a product prototype built by one’s employer is just as valuable as your personal possessions, if not more so.

However, that may be the reason why Powell still has a job at Apple, as it would be difficult to demonstrate that he was truly negligent in his behavior. It is quite conceivable that he brought the prototype outside the Apple campus so that it could be tested in other environments. This makes sense, even though there’s a serious risk factor.

Unfortunately for the individual who recovered that iPhone — in whatever manner that may have happened — and Gizmodo, who published the story, they may be in a heap of legal trouble. It would have been a trivial matter for the person who found the product, who has been identified as Brian Hogan, to return the phone. Indeed, the manner in which he claims to have recovered the prototype is quite different from Powell’s version. The affidavit quotes Hogan as saying an intoxicated male handed him the phone, which was supposedly retrieved from a stool.

So was it in Powell’s case, did it fall out of the case, or was it left on a stool? That may be left for the judge or jury to determine, assuming this case goes to trial.

Regardless, there seems to be little dispute over the fact that Powell’s name and the existence of his Face-book account were both readily available from the phone. It would have been a trivial matter for Hogan to contact Powell and arrange for its return. Maybe he would have even received an award for his efforts. But, no, Hogan seems to have done everything but behave in a logical fashion, and the worst part of it was to make that deal with the devil to receive remuneration for his “accidental” good fortune.

Now I don’t pretend to be able to interpret the legal consequences when it comes to the suspects in this episode. Clearly few were thinking straight, since most anyone who has read much about Apple understands its secretive nature. Besides, no sensible corporate culture would accept the loss of a prototype nor the public disclosure of critical product information in the media. They’d definitely seek legal recourse from their own attorneys or from the authorities.

What’s most troubling to me is the cavalier fashion in which Gawker Media, publishers of Gizmodo, treated the entire affair, as if they were totally oblivious to the strong possibility that their unethical behavior would come back to bite them in the end. It’s bad enough to pay a source for a story, beyond perhaps lunch or a cab ride. But when a publication’s editors know they are dealing with a possibly stolen product prototype, surely they would take the appropriate steps to protect themselves.

Is there no legal staff at Gawker Media to tell them what is obvious to any thinking person?

On the other hand, this entire soap opera would make for great television. You’d hardly have to alter the key details, except to change the names to, as they said in that classic TV crime drama, “Dragnet,” protect the innocent. What’s more, if the suspects want to avoid some serious consequences, maybe they should follow another “Law & Order” convention, which is to make a deal with the prosecution.

In the end, of course, even though Apple will continue to complain about the possible lost business because of the premature disclosure of key details about their next iPhone, nothing in that prototype seems to differ much from what was already expected by tech pundits. Indeed, with all this daily coverage, you can bet Apple will reap the rewards with far greater sales when the next iPhone is finally released. Remember that Apple is the victim here, and everyone sympathizes with the victim.

I also wonder if Apple’s competitors might begin to urge their product engineers to strategically leave prototypes in restaurants, just in case someone retrieves one and sells it to the media. You can’t pay for this kind of publicity.

MORE EVIDENCE THAT GOOGLE IS UP TO NO GOOD?

When you surrender your privacy to a multinational conglomerate in order to get free email and other services, don’t you sometimes feel that perhaps a little too much information about you is being gathered?

Certainly that frightening possibility came to the fore a few months back when, in introducing its new Google Buzz social networking service, Google accidentally turned it on without asking for permission from the first group of users. That meant that these unfortunate people found themselves being “followed” by people they didn’t want to follow them. It was an egregious invasion of their privacy, and Google quickly changed their tune to make it an optional setup.

But you have to wonder what possessed them to overlook such obvious privacy concerns, or maybe they just don’t care.

This has become all the more significant in light of the news this past weekend that Google did it again to you. This time, their fleet of vehicles grabbing “Street View” information in neighborhoods around the world was also evidently also scooping up information from Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity. Worse, this wasn’t just an isolated instance, but ongoing behavior that had persisted for some four years until Google pulled the plug.

This security breach was blamed on the use of some “experimental software,” though you have to wonder how they conveniently overlooked the acquisition of what was estimated to be over 600 gigabytes of data retrieved from what were evidently unprotected Wi-Fi networks.

Now I’m sure many of you on occasion connect to a hot spot at a local restaurant or other establishment, and perhaps you just want to get off a few quick emails or check an online account while consuming a beverage or a meal. But do you know who might be sniffing that data? Whether it’s Google or just an individual hacker, this goes to show that you have to be extremely careful what you do with your stuff.

And if you do have a Wi-Fi network, make sure that you’ve established a secure password for access. Apple’s AirPort Extreme takes you through a simple Setup Assistant where you can conveniently set up the proper level of network security. I can’t say the same for some third party devices, particularly older routers where security concerns weren’t necessarily considered.

What this sorry episode does demonstrate to me is that using Google’s free services isn’t free. There’s a price to pay beyond the targeted ads, and it’s clear you can’t take Google’s apologies seriously. It will, clearly, happen again with another product or service at another time, and I don’t want to be the victim.

Indeed, rather than worry about such trivial matters as why Apple doesn’t want Flash on their mobile platform, maybe the government should be looking more closely into the affairs of Google and see just what’s really going on there.

THE FINAL WORD

The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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