The Apple rumour site Think Secret has posted a note saying that it has reached a settlement with Apple over the lawsuit the computer company filed against it for leaking company secrets, and that it is “a positive solution for both sides.” No doubt any kind of settlement that doesn’t involve millions of dollars or jail time is a relief for Nick Ciarelli — the Harvard student who ran the site and has been hounded by Apple for several years now — but I fail to see how it’s positive for anyone.

This case is separate from another case involving bloggers and company secrets, in which Apple tried to get PowerPage, AppleInsider and Think Secret to reveal the names of the sources they got their information from. In that case, a lower court ruled that the bloggers weren’t protected by California’s “journalist shield” law, and that they would have to turn over the information — but an appeals court disagreed, saying they were entitled to the same protection as journalists.

Think Secret was sued separately for divulging trade secrets — and while the site didn’t have to turn over the names of its sources, it has still been forced to shut down. Meanwhile, Apple comes off looking like some power-crazed South American dictator, the kind who can’t stand it when the media reveal government secrets and so arrests the entire press corps. I know that keeping secrets and then revealing them to an adoring public at Macworld is a time-honoured Jobs tradition, but this is ridiculous.

As Mike Masnick notes at Techdirt, this will have a chilling effect on journalists — and I’m including publications like Think Secret and Apple Insider in that description. Apple should be ashamed of itself. My blogging friend Rex Hammock has a moving tribute to Think Secret here.

Update:

Ars Technica has a good overview of the case and those that preceded it — and according to the EFF, Nick Ciarelli is pretty happy with the settlement (which the EFF suggests Apple was in danger of losing). If he got a half-decent settlement, then I’m glad. But I still think it sends the wrong message to shut the site down.

About the author

Mathew 2414 posts

I'm a Toronto-based former senior writer with Gigaom and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

30 Responses to “Think Secret: Damn you, Steve Jobs”
  1. […] them to an adoring public at Macworld is a time-honoured Jobs tradition, but this is ridiculous. Matthew Ingram The guy behind Think Secret notes that he never gave up the source, and calls this settlement […]

  2. […] Bad move Apple. You should be ashamed of yourself. […]

  3. On the other hand… Apple has every right to protect its interests. Think Secret (whom i've read for years) knew exactly what game they were playing and it was fun while it lasted.. but Apple as a South American dictator? What over-the-top nonsense. Surely journalistic and blogger exaggeration is just as chilling in that it too is the enemy of truth?

    • Exaggeration for emphasis — even hyperbole — is hardly as chilling
      as shutting down an independent journalist. Why not go after the Wall
      Street Journal or the New York Times? Same principle. Because Apple
      knows they would have a fight on their hands, whereas a 19-year-old
      will settle and get on with his life. That doesn't make it right.

  4. So a company has no rights when it comes to trying to protect their information? I'm OK with the site existing I guess (in fact, I've been there a time or two myself..), and I'm OK with them being able to publish what they choose (Anything less would be censorship, correct? And we don't want that.). But when Apple cornered them, they wouldn't say where they got their information from. As far as a journalist protecting his/her sources..come on guys, are we talking about Watergate-sized issues here, or a company's product lineup? Does the public 'need to know this'? Did I really 'need' to know whatever I went to TS to read about in the past? Somebody yell out “slippery slope!”, but I can't give the same weight to this.

    • Nigel, I think you said it yourself — they should be able to publish
      whatever they choose (within the bounds of libel, of course) because
      anything less would be censorship. So then why do you think it's okay
      that the site be shut down? I realize that the intimate details of
      whether the new iMac has a Firewire 2 port or not are hardly
      earth-shattering questions, but the principles of free speech and
      journalistic protection have to be defended in *every* case, not just
      the important ones — it's called setting a precedent.

  5. Mathew, just read your reply to Rikk.. I don't think it's any better when the WSJ does it either. Like most things in life, there is more grey here for me than black and white.

  6. Im sure Apple paid Think Secret a nice big price for the domain name and website .

  7. […] sites think twice before taking on big companies like Apple. As Fake Steve comments, in response to a post by Matthew Ingram, “We did not shut down Think Secret. That did not happen. Okay? That’s not reality. […]

  8. Wow you are a prize prick. I came across you recently and find what you write to be so pointless it makes good reading. Apple is a company that has every right to protect its private information. It has shareholders, employees and customers! Spotty teenagers and juvenile journalists think its one big joke and they have some right to say what they like.

    • Well, that makes two of us then, because your comment is pretty
      pointless — and it doesn't even make up for it by being funny. So
      Apple should be able to squash whoever it wants, just because they
      posted a rumour? You must be a lawyer.

  9. Apple has every right to protect itself. Apple is no different than any other company except, perhaps, they're more aggressive. In a perfect world, if Think Secret did nothing wrong, then there would be no settlement and Apple would have to take a hike. I'm not naive. I realize that Apple may have been able to shut them down simply because Think Secret couldn't afford the legal fees to fight Apple. But, then again, Apple may indeed have been in the right. Why does everyone automatically assume that Apple (or for that matter, any large company) is simply a bully?

    • Protect itself from what, Gary? You can't tell me that a rumour on
      ThinkSecret is going to seriously impact Apple's business. Not even
      Apple's lawyers believe that, or they would have taken it to court.

      • Apple itself has pointed to rumors and rumor sites as having had a material impact on it's financials in the past – the most prominent example being the rumors surround the a Powerbook's release date:
        http://www.atpm.com/6.02/jasonpismo.shtml

        A more reasoned response to this issue has been posted here:
        http://theshapeofdays.com/2007/12/20/think-secr


        Shawn King
        Host/Executive Producer
        Your Mac Life
        http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com

        • So because Apple says rumour sites affected its financials, we should
          just automatically believe it, Shawn? You're a pretty trusting guy.
          But then, I guess because it's Apple, we're supposed to just assume
          that its motives are pure.

          And thanks for the link to the “more seasoned” response. My only
          question after reading it is: seasoned by what? I can think of a lot
          of things that post has been soaking in, and none of them are
          complimentary. Bloggers “need to be chilled”? Journalism's moral
          compass needs to be “un-stuck by the occasional high-profile lawsuit”?
          What a load of bollocks.

          • So, because Apple can't provide indisputable proof that they were hurt, they have no right to protect themselves? Or, that they have to wait until they've been hurt to take action?

            First, this is similar to protecting intellectual property (patents, trademarks, etc.). You have to make the effort to protect yourself even if the violation has little or no effect on you. If you don't, from a legal point of view, it makes it harder to go after others who harm you. If you don't protect yourself from one guy, the courts often decide that you gave up the right to protect yourself altogether.

            Second, are you saying that unless Apple is hurt (and can prove it), it's okay for someone to post their secrets? Is it okay to accept and sell stolen goods if the original owner can't prove they were harmed?

            Third, you think we're gullible for trusting Apple. It's not that I necessarily trust Apple. But, why should I trust bloggers? Who are these people?

            Finally, it looks like Think Secret is happy with the outcome. They're claiming victory over Apple (see here: http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?…).

          • Yes, Apple should be able to provide indisputable proof that they were
            hurt — stifling free speech should have a pretty high bar set for it,
            don't you think? And yes, they should have to wait until they've been
            hurt.

            As for the argument that you have to sue every now and then just to
            show that you care, that seems to be a justification for just about
            any lawsuit Apple or any other company chooses to launch — if that's
            the world you want to live in, you're welcome to it.

            I was wondering how long it would be before someone compared what
            Think Secret did to accepting stolen property. News flash: corporate
            “secrets” — including ones that Apple was planning to release anyway,
            which as far as I'm concerned means they don't really qualify as
            secrets in the first place — isn't even remotely like stealing
            physical property. I assume you got that argument from the RIAA, which
            loves to compare copyright infringement to theft, with about as much
            success.

            And whether or not ThinkSecret is happy or not is irrelevant. Not only
            are they probably not allowed to criticize Apple as part of the
            settlement, that isn't even the point. See my latest post — I'm sure
            you'll find lots to get angry about in there too.

          • “As for the argument that you have to sue every now and then just to show that you care, that seems to be a justification for just about any lawsuit Apple or any other company chooses to launch” — You may have misunderstood me. The fact is, that if you don't protect yourself against one foe, the court often considers that you've given up your right to protect yourself against any other foes. No, this isn't exactly the world I care to live in, but it is the world we all live in. And, so we (and Apple) have to play by the rules until we can change those rules.

            Also, I'm not defending Apple (though it may sound like I am). I'm just saying that I (nor most of us) know enough about this to know if Apple has or hasn't done anything wrong. However, there seem to be a lot of people who automatically assume that since Apple is a huge corporation, and ThinkSecret is the little guy, that Apple must be a mean bully. The thought is that the people at ThinkSecret are a group of honest, well-meaning people that don't even make money at what they are doing. They are doing what they do for the benefit of mankind. Face it. They are most likely like everyone else and are doing this to make money.

          • Wow. Copyright infringement isn't theft? Maybe it isn't technically considered theft (admittal of ignorance here; I honestly don't know), but it sure feels that way to me. If you didn't pay for the rights to keep that song/movie on your hard drive, then I don't think it should be there. Your 'close personal friend' on the other side of the globe may graciously allow you to download it, but that doesn't make it OK.

          • In fact, copyright infringement isn't theft, legally speaking — at
            least according to the U.S. Supreme Court. That's because intellectual
            “property” isn't really property; stealing your car deprives you of
            the use of your car, but copying a song doesn't deprive the artist of
            anything but the theoretical revenue from a theoretical lost sale.

          • “So because Apple says rumour sites affected its financials, we should just automatically believe it, Shawn?”

            Do you have any reason *not* to believe it? And as I “lived through” the period spoken about in the referenced article, I know many people who did not buy Powerbooks based on those rumors.

            “You're a pretty trusting guy.” You don't know me very well. I barely trust my wife. :)

            And as to “seasoned by what?”, you've got to agree he makes a better argument than “What a load of bollocks.” :) Care to detail exactly what was bollocks? I'm all ears.

            Shawn King
            Host/Executive Producer
            Your Mac Life
            http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com

          • As I mentioned to someone else, there should be a pretty high bar set
            for squashing free speech, and “Apple says some blogger really hurt
            their sales” just isn't good enough for me, I'm afraid — nor is your
            anecdotal “evidence.”

            Detailing all the problems in the blog post you linked to would take
            too long, but here's a start: Harrell's argument begins by saying we
            give journalists a long leash when it comes to committing crimes –
            but Think Secret didn't commit a crime. Having a blog that posts
            rumours doesn't qualify as “tortious interference,” no matter how many
            times he says it does.

            And the term “trade secrets” doesn't extend to things you were
            planning to reveal soon anyway, at least not in any ruling I've ever
            seen. KFC's special recipe is a trade secret — what colour the new
            iPod is going to be just doesn't qualify.

            Harrell also says that Think Secret wasn't “engaged in journalism in
            any meaningful sense of the word.” So free speech should be suppressed
            unless it meets some standard of “important” or “meaningful”
            journalism? That's a nasty road to go down. That's more than just
            bollocks — it's idiotic.

            As for the argument that bloggers “need to be chilled” and journalists
            should be sued from time to time to “un-stick their moral compass,” I
            only said it was bollocks because words failed me — and continue to
            fail me. It's so asinine it's difficult to come up with a cogent
            response. What Think Secret did wasn't “immoral” in any way that makes
            sense, so I'm not even sure what Harrell is driving at. Companies
            aren't moral entities, and so revealing their “secrets” couldn't
            possibly be immoral, or even unethical for that matter.

            It's just a big, fat truckload of stupid.

  10. […] Hyndman, are looking at the closure of ThinkSecret a little differently than I did yesterday (in a post that got me a smackdown from no less than Fake Steve Jobs himself — thanks for crashing my […]

  11. […] Hyndman, are looking at the closure of ThinkSecret a little differently than I did yesterday (in a post that got me a smackdown from no less than Fake Steve Jobs himself — thanks for crashing my […]

  12. Why is this bad? It SHOULD be illegal to reveal company secrets. It’s not like Think Secret was a whistleblower for illegal government practices.

  13. […] work once everyone knows who’s behind it? I’m not sure. But when you have to resort to lashing out at the likes of yours truly — as FS did when I wrote my Think Secret post — maybe […]

  14. Someone should pick this up, call it Think Stealthy or something.

  15. EyeThink Secret

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