Mac Musings

Think Secret: Struck Down by Apple's Asteroid

Daniel Knight - 2007.12.24

I hate to end the year on a rant, but some journalists just don't understand the difference between a blog and a full-fledged website. It's frustrating enough when someone refers to Low End Mac as a blog, as though the site were nothing more than the ramblings of one person, but to see a headline like User-Friendly Apple Shows a Blogger Its Ruthless Core shows that even professional writers don't understand the distinction.

What Is a Blog?

A blog (shortened from web log) is a specific type of website that is usually written by one person and usually displays log entries in reverse chronological order. Blogs may be personal online diaries or personal commentary on a particular subject or range of subjects.

Because blogs are generally seen as personal opinion sites, the authors of blogs are generally not considered journalists, the exception being those with a background in journalism.

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, he gave the world a new medium for publishing content, both personal and professional. The established media (newspaper, magazine, radio, and television) looked upon the upstart with disdain, just as print media had once looked down on electronic media. To this day the legitimacy of Internet-only media is disparaged.

One of the best ways to undermine the credibility of a website is to call it a blog, as it is thereby immediately associated with a host of personal blogs and journalist wannabes. With the title of his article about Think Secret, journalist John Naughton (who works for The Observer - genuine print media), does that.

Think Secret

Nick Ciarelli has been publishing Think Secret since May 1999 using the alias Nick dePlume. Nick managed to make some insider connections with Apple, and as a publisher (albeit of a lowly website, not a printed journal or program broadcast over the airwaves) he believed that he was within his rights to share information leaked from Apple (that First Amendment thing) and had an obligation to protect his source or sources (that Shield Law thing).

Apple is notoriously secretive, although the company had a long tradition of leaking information to Mac the Knife of the MacWeek trade magazine. The company was none to happy to have Think Secret and other Mac rumor sites publish inside information, and we strongly suspect that Apple set up both the rumor sites and its leaks with the "Asteroid" project.

Code named Asteroid, the device was supposed to be a breakout box that musicians could use with GarageBand, and company insiders leaked information. There were mockup photos, preliminary specifications, and even "incontrovertible evidence" in the code of GarageBand 2.0. And the rumor sites published what they received in 2004/05.

Since Apple has never produced any kind of breakout box or input device for use with GarageBand, we suspect the whole project was designed to smoke out leaks and provide Apple with the weapon they needed to take down the gadfly rumor sites. Because the goal was never to produce a device, Apple could track leaks by determining which bits of information (carefully leaked to select individuals) made it in the rumor sites.

On top of that, Apple could claim "trade secret" protection for this project, which trumps freedom of the press. With one project, Apple could clear out its internal leaks and shut down the rumor sites.

After years of legal wrangling, Think Secret has become the first casualty of Apple's thinking different about a free press. And, yes, Apple attacked Ciarelli as a blogger, not a journalist, arguing that shield laws did not apply. A shame that The Observer used the same label. What Think Different did was investigative journalism, and had the site not gone after Apple rumors, the folks at Apple probably would have applauded his tenacity and skills.

I wonder if Trade Secret law really applies to a product that never saw the light of day? Our own Anne Onymus was the first to raise this question 18 months ago in Sudden Impact: Apple's Great Asteroid Hoax, and not a soul has stepped forward to show that Asteroid ever was a legitimate hardware project at Apple. We remain unconvinced of its legitimacy.

Nick Ciarelli has put Think Secret behind him without revealing his sources, and he plans to move forward with his college education and broader journalistic interests. We wish him well.