So as related in this Gizmodo story, someone found a new iPhone prototype left behind at a bar. According to the story, the phone’s data contents were remotely wiped, but there’s now photographs and video available, as well as detailed analysis of the dissected components.
So my question is, what’s the legality of all this? Besides the simple point that disassembling a lost phone seems like theft and destruction of private property, are there even more potentially serious repercussions of poking around the device? Leaking company secrets? Manipulating the market? What might happen to these folks over their zeal to tinker with a device that doesn’t belong to them?
Even the story linked to in the OP made it clear that Gizmodo knew who it belonged to. If you find something on the street, and it says, “property of Bob Wumpus,” what obligation do you have to return it? Does it make a difference if the contact information is clearly presented?
As an update, a nerd speaking legalese seems to be of the opinion that Gizmodo could very easily be held liable for damages, and even says that “a court would find their actions willful and malicious and award up to 2x the original damages.”
If it was indeed stolen, I’m all for it. But if it was accidentally lost, I am curious if the law would apply here. If Apple was dumb enough to lose a prototype, don’t they deserve whatever trade secret repercussions occur?
Though an added complication is that presumably Gizmodo can claim they brought it with the intention of giving it back to its rightful owner (once they had poked, prodded, and photographed it a little). I don’t know if that would work as a defence.
A police officer once told me, when I left my wallet in a movie theater and it disappeared, that something is considered “stolen” for legal and insurance purposes when you lose it like that – after all, if somebody hadn’t stolen it, it would still be where you left it, right?
I don’t know how accurate his information was, but I thought it was interesting.