Apple's Reputation Bruised After Gizmodo Phone Flap

The company's carefully polished reputation is taking a beating in the days following the report that one of its engineers lost the device while performing real-life testing. Apparently, the lost phone was found and wound up on Gawker Media's Gizmodo's site. The question of whom Gizmodo paid for the iPhone is up in the air. But the actions that followed Gizmodo's coverage have reflected poorly on Apple.

It's unclear whether a crime has actually been committed.The question remains: If the property was found (not stolen), can the finder sell it, or sell access to it?

Apple's management was clearly dismayed with the events that unfolded -- pity the engineer who lost the iPhone in the first place. The company, long thought of as the creative underdog in contrast to, in the words of The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, "Commandant Gates," is looking rather KGB-like in its quest for justice.

Reports surfaced this week that local police seized laptops, flash drives and credit card statements from the Gizmodo editor's Fremont, Calif., home in a April 24 raid, breaking down the door to his home. Reportedly, Apple asked for a criminal investigation. That's understandable, but the door bashing comes across as gratuitous use of force. Remember, this is an investigation about a mobile phone.

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Of course, there might be other proprietary information that was tucked inside that particular device. That would explain the investigators -- reportedly hired by Apple -- who showed up at the doorstep of the person who originally found the prototype iPhone. Those "men in black" apparently wanted to search the finder's premises; unsurprisingly, they were turned away.

If Apple is trying to retrieve sensitive information that was also on the device, then that would make the company more sympathetic in the public eye: It would simply be trying to get back documents or information it believes was improperly obtained.

A statement explaining how vital these trade secrets are to developing new, affordable Apple products would go a long way. But sending "enforcers" to private citizens' homes or being complicit in entryway destruction is generating only a very large current of mistrust for the company, that will require lots of repair work by the public relations team.