Ethics and Valleywag’s Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt

Today is the day Apple will unveil its long-awaited tablet device, destined to be the most culture-altering advancement since, well, the Segway or something. Apple’s excited about it, anyway, and as is usual for that company, it has fiercely guarded against premature leaks regarding its newest innovation. In the process, it threatened to sue the proudly sleazy website “Gawker,” which had one of its misbegotten offspring, the Silicon Valley gossip site “Valleywag,” announce the “Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt,” which dangled cash prizes for anyone who would uncover and leak tablet information to the website before January 27. Saying said it had “had enough of trying to follow all the speculation,” Valleywag published a bounty list describing what it would pay for and how much, ranging from $10,000 for photos to $100,000 for anyone who could put the tablet in its editors hands.

Apple’s lawyers responded with a cease and desist letter, saying that the scavenger hunt scheme violated trade-secret law and induced others to breach their confidentiality agreements with the company. Naturally, Gawker cried “First Amendment!”

It appears that the lawsuit won’t go forward, since the tablet announcement date is here; a pity, because a lawsuit couldn’t happen to a more deserving operation, and because a court decision would have clarified an interesting issue. We all know the media happily acts as information-launderers, accepting documents and secrets from lawyers, government officials and corporate whistleblowers who could be fired, disciplined, sued or prosecuted for leaking them, and publishing the illicitly acquired information with self-righteous pride, not to mention confidence, since the Constitution says the press can print anything. The issue is this: if the media can publish such leaks, can it also induce them directly with cash? Continue reading