Falling for the Dan Lyons Apple Hoax: Implications and Portents

Rob Enderle

I spend a lot of time, and I have to admit take a little pleasure in, pointing out hoaxes to others. So it is incredibly ironic and quite humbling to fall for a hoax myself.


In my previous post, I got upset about what appeared to be a personal attack on Dan Lyons by Apple. Today I found out that Dan was trying to draw more attention to the Think Secret shutdown which, I agree, we should have all been more concerned about than we were. But Apple never actually went after Dan. I clearly was drinking way too much eggnog to see the joke for what it was. It was kind of ironic that it was a Slashdot post that got me going in the first place.


Before the Internet, shutting down a publication covering a company as a result of talking about real facts would have been nearly impossible -- but Apple did it in passing, which should have troubled more of us than it did. Granted, it seems that the owner of Think Secret is OK with this, but settlements are like this and often what folks say has more to do with the settlement terms than with what they really think.


So, as we end this year and start another, let's talk about the power shift that is occurring around companies like Apple and Google and wonder about what that may mean for the future.


Power Shift


With the coming of the .com age, we saw change. The change shifted advertising dollars significantly and allowed new properties to rise, most notably Google, and others to fall. (The world's newspapers largely seem to be on life support now.)


We moved, and many older reporters lament about this, from covering the facts to being sensational without a lot of regard for the facts. I think this has created a world that could be more easily manipulated. This is offset significantly by the number of small sites that cover topics, but were a company to aggressively go out and buy a lot of these small sites, shifting them to their purpose, it could control a substantial amount of opinion and, done right, might not have to disclose its ownership.


This is why the Think Secret thing is kind of scary. We don't know how often things like this happen because there would be every reason to not want to disclose the change. What if, instead of shutting the site down, Apple had taken it over? Given sites that cover Apple appear largely funded by Apple advertising (which may simply be because that is where you'd put those ads, but might imply a cause and effect), you might wonder how independent they really are.


It wasn't so long ago that I watched the editor-in-chief of PC World resign, and then get reinstated, when Apple appeared to apply excessive pressure on that publication. Fortunately they did the right thing, but Apple is used by a lot of us as a good example of how to manage message and image, and what they do others will likely try. In this instance they got caught, but it begs the question of how many times this is not caught.


The Big Question


In the end, while I'm clearly embarrassed by the fact that I fell for Dan's joke, he got me thinking about the big picture of power and influence in the post-Internet era. The question comes down to trust and the reality that we probably can't trust things, and maybe never could, at face value anymore. As I write this, a new virus embedded in what seems to be an electronic Christmas card is spreading anything but joy. While I ponder on the kind of people who would use Christmas in this way, I realize there are bad folks out there and sometimes they get into power.


Right now the controls over power abuse, particularly in the media, appear to be unusually low. As we wind our way into an election year, we might want to think about that. Also, when it comes to technology products, which is what this is supposed to be about after all, it may be increasingly wise to look under the covers and check references. Just because something looks good doesn't mean it is, and certainly doesn't mean it will be good for your unique circumstances.


So, as we enter 2008, whether it is a seeming Christmas card from a friend or a glowing piece on a product you are interested in, you may want to take a little extra care to make sure you can trust it before doing something that could turn out to be foolish.

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Dec 29, 2007 11:04 AM mr_matalino mr_matalino  says:
"According to the Apple Death Knell Counter at macobserver.com, Enderle has predicted the demise of the Macintosh more times since 1995 than any other industry observer." -wikipedia.orgDoes this latest "oops" REALLY surprise anyone? Reply
Dec 29, 2007 11:14 AM kevin-john black kevin-john black  says:
whew.. well I don't think you need to apologize. It might be in order if you were a respected "journalist" and not a common joe. If you're just one of us ... we don't really have to trust, believe, or listen to your opinions. You're in the clear. Right? Reply
Dec 29, 2007 11:31 AM bob_c_b bob_c_b  says:
Enderle got pwnd again, do yourself a favor and retire before you stay to long like Dvorak... Never mind, too late. Reply
Dec 29, 2007 12:31 PM Armavirumquecano Armavirumquecano  says:
Afraid I agree with John GruberYou're just a jackass Reply
Dec 29, 2007 1:38 PM Not my real name Not my real name  says:
Rob, I typically dont comment on blogs like this, but having learned of this, I feel compelled to share my thoughts. I dont see how anyone could take you seriously after you took Dan seriously for such an obvious joke, and one widely disclosed prior to your own publication. There were many clues, from the timing, to the alleged infractions (e.g. publishing that new hardware will be announced at Macworld). You are discredited not only by your failure to get the joke, but also by your failure to confirm a spectacular (and in your mind serious) story published on a satirical site. Using the occasion of your mea culpa to continue your original thesis only makes you sound more foolish, and to everyone, not just your critics. Please know that even your friends and colleagues are laughing at you behind your back, and no editor will ever read you again without chuckling. This is your asterisk. You are right about one thing, though, the irony. Here you are, trying to be serious, and you have become a joke because there Dan is trying to make a joke, and you took him seriously. Reply
Dec 29, 2007 2:16 PM Chris Thompson Chris Thompson  says:
Mr. Enderle, in response to your comment above: "It wasnt an NDA with him though so he should have been under no obligation to uphold it."Your understanding of the law is incorrect, though what you're saying is a common misconception. See the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, s.1(2). A person misappropriates a trade secret if he discloses it knowing that the person he received it from was under a non-disclosure agreement, even if he himself is not bound by that agreement.The law has to be this way otherwise it would be trivially easy to destroy trade secrets by disseminating them through arms-length third parties.(BTW, Massachusetts is one of only three or four states not a signatory to the UTSA, but the common law on this point is the same.) Reply
Dec 29, 2007 2:58 PM Anthony Anthony  says:
Hi Dan,I run a site called FakeBridges4Sale.com.How many can i sign you up for? Reply
Dec 29, 2007 2:59 PM Anthony Anthony  says:
Hi Rob,I run a site called FakeBridges4Sale.com.How many can i sign you up for? Reply
Dec 29, 2007 3:22 PM Bruno Dexter Bruno Dexter  says:
My only concern is for your clients. As a consultant, my livelihood is absolutely dependent on rigorous fact checking and exercising absolute due diligence. If I make a recommendation to a client they know that it is a fully vetted solution and that I didn't base my position on bias, rumor, or suspect sources.Maybe a policy of "confirm first, publish second" is something you might look at. Reply
Dec 29, 2007 3:30 PM George George  says:
Rob,I've read you commentaries and find it hard to believe anyone actually pays for your advice. Vague, weird, flat out wrong, year after year no insight that would be actionable by any company. Reply
Dec 29, 2007 4:00 PM OS2Guy OS2Guy  says:
There has been no real evidence that Apple actually shutdown ThinkSecret. What there has been is an announcement that an agreement has been made resulting in the owner of ThinkSecret deciding to shut down his site at a specified time (it is still viable today).Whether ThinkSecret was forced to shut down is all supposition - for all any of us know Apple could have simply made him a financial offer he couldn't refuse - or - maybe the guy didn't want to waste his time and money fighting off Apple in a long protracted court case for the revealing of trade secrets - which is what Apple claimed. Apple had no problem with ThinkSecret reporting on rumors. As any company should be concerned when it comes to their products, Apple was more concerned with revealing information that they regard as a tradesecret. They would have had to prove that in court. Would you want to stand up to Apple, who sits with 15 billion in reserves, in court for years and year? I think not.In fact, the whole thing with ThinkSecret could have easily been made up. The webmaster could have simply tired of the day in/day out hassle of running the site. I say this from experience. Having run Warp City's gossip column for many years there came a time when I had had enough - not only because of the constant attacks against my character and professional life - but from the grind of it all. Even though I had over 5,000 subscribers the money wasn't that important. It was my sanity and the physical/mental grind of it all. One day I just said "no mas" and shut it down. There was all kinds of rumors and claims that I was forced, or the web host pulled the plug - you name it, it was claimed and written about throughout all of the OS/2 community. Bottom line - I was going to college and just didn't have the kind of time that was needed to keep it up.Maybe the same thing happened to ThinkSecret but it is so much easier to claim "Apple and I have come to terms..." As for Lyons. It drove me nuts how all these stupid web sites were promoting the guy's every word when it was clear everything he was saying was total hogwash. There is no proof whatsoever that Apple even gave a damn about what Lyons was saying. "I met with an Apple honcho today ... blah blah blah.." was entirely fabricated. Even if he did meet he could never prove it. The only claim we had was Lyons himself and he was a self-confused liar already. Tim...(The OS2Guy) Reply
Dec 29, 2007 6:01 PM RobEarle RobEarle  says:
Lol Rob Enderle is a retard.( Didn't we already know ?) Reply
Dec 29, 2007 6:38 PM Candace Candace  says:
Mr. Enderle, here's another great site for Christian news:http://landoverbaptist.comI mean, since you seem to have a problem with parody and irony. Reply
Dec 29, 2007 6:48 PM chuck chuck  says:
Rob, I don't believe you should be covering Apple. Perhaps you have a better track record/understanding of other companies, but its been obvious for a long time you don't grok Apple. Reply
Dec 29, 2007 7:58 PM Randy Smith Randy Smith  says:
Apple shutting down Think Secret does suck big time but this hardly the first time a company has used it muscle to push a company or website around. It was a common practice for Microsoft to do this, they just did it in a different way buy using wads of cash to either buy companies out right or ply them with lots of advertising dollars. If you want to see what advertising dollars can buy you have to look no further than C|net. Recently CNET fired GameSpot editorial director Jeff Gerstmann for slamming a game that was the biggest game advertiser on GameSpot. Microsoft has fired employees that have blogs for even mentioning the innocent goings on inside Microsoft. Again Microsoft sent out fully loaded Vista computers to bloggers who always take Microsofts side or gives them glowing reviews. Still Apple taking down Think Secret does suck, it sucks as much as Microsoft doing the same thing but we are less likely to hear about that in the news. I wonder whay? Reply
Dec 29, 2007 8:01 PM Zato Zato  says:
Enderle says: "This is why the Think Secret thing is kind of scary. We dont know how often things like this happen because there would be every reason to not want to disclose the change. What if, instead of shutting the site down, Apple had taken it over? Given sites that cover Apple appear largely funded by Apple advertising (which may simply be because that is where youd put those ads, but might imply a cause and effect), you might wonder how independent they really are."Rob, for those sentences , I award you the first annual (2007) Aholie award. They are the best work you've ever done. Not only are they a flat-out lie, but they accuse Apple of the very strategy your bosses at Microsoft have used to control IT news on the internet for years.Again, congratulations to Rob Enderle, winner of the 2007 aholie award for the best in Black PR. Reply
Dec 29, 2007 8:38 PM Andrew Andrew  says:
"sourced at Dan's own site" .... ?"I wrote this well in advance so I could take most of the week off."Wow. That's nonsensical *and* lazy, dude.Next: The Onion as primary source for election coverage? Late night talk show monologue reruns as primary sources for current events? "Bhutto addresses thousands at campaign rally in Rawalpindi"...?I've read articles for several months gleefully slamming the Enderle name and all it represents. I've enjoyed them for their snarky tone and presumably exaggerated or at least lopsided details. I presumed incorrectly. Thou art yellow, sir.PS: While we're talking about things Apple has not done wrong.. It's worth noting that the non sequitur mention of a Christmas themed virus can be safely ignored by OSX users; as with 100% of other viruses in existence, they are thoroughly immune.PPS: While I'm being pedantic, you should review the meaning of the phrase "begs the question".May your holidays be filled with light and joy. Reply
Dec 29, 2007 8:39 PM SuperMatt SuperMatt  says:
Despite the fact that your premise was totally wrong, you still find a way to try and paint Apple as an evil bully because of the ThinkSecret thing. Apple went through legal channels to protect their trade secrets, and in the end the settlement doesn't appear to be fiscally harmful to the owner of ThinkSecret, so where's the evil bullying? Reply
Dec 29, 2007 8:44 PM ChrissyOne ChrissyOne  says:
Rob, I honestly don't know how you do it.You're a master of your craft, and my hat is off.;)-c Reply
Dec 30, 2007 9:36 AM Marcos El Malo Marcos El Malo  says:
Bruno? Why would you be concerned about Microsoft? This is not Rob's first experience with credibility suicide, and none of the previous instances threatened Rob's relationship with his patron in the least. Reply
Dec 30, 2007 11:25 AM Zachary Pruckowski Zachary Pruckowski  says:
Think Secret is not a news site, it's a rumors site. To compare ThinkSecret, AppleInsider, or MacRumors to any sort of written and serious publication is a serious mistake. I mean, they're entertaining, report actual news (iPod sales numbers and product announcements and stuff), but the commentary and rumors stuff isn't at all accurate.Also, Fake Steve Jobs already pulled the "Getting Shut Down by Apple" prank months ago. I mean, how can you take those sorts of posts on there seriously when we regularly pulls these sorts of pranks, and already pulled this exact one.Finally, the Think Secret guy is like a senior in college or something. He wound up making a serious amount of money while still in college. I don't envy him the lawsuit, but he ended up pretty well off. Most people end college $30k in the hole. Reply
Dec 30, 2007 2:04 PM Dave Dave  says:
I'd think you would have reached all of your insightful conclusions about trust, bad folks, and power long ago. Don't forget, you've been duped before."I saw what appeared to be a word-for-word copy of about every third line of code in the central module of the Linux kernel. The lines of code contained typos, misspellings and even copyright disclaimers. It appeared to constitute a violation of the license."Does this sound at all familiar?Of course, that time the hoax wasn't quite as obvious though, like this time, many, many smarter people had already figured it out before you stuck your foot in it.Happy New Year! May 2008 be the year you finally put us out of your misery! Reply
Dec 31, 2007 9:15 AM JCE JCE  says:
Dude, you lost your credibility way back when with SCO... Reply
Jan 2, 2008 9:36 AM Peter Cohen Peter Cohen  says:
"I wrote this well in advance so I could take most of the week off. I only found out today."So you couldn't redact it, and your editors at this site couldn't either? I find that utterly bizarre. Reply
Jan 2, 2008 6:05 PM Brian Little Brian Little  says:
I admit, Rob...I didn't need to read past the first paragraph of this piece. The very idea that you find _anything_ humbling -- given your self-evidently monstrous ego -- is so patently ludicrous that it makes anything else you might have to say worthless.Happy New Year, Rob, from a once-and-never-again visitor. Reply

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