We hardly ever notice, but so much of the information we receive about the tech industry comes from rumors. Journalists and media outlets hear about potential releases or updates months before they actually happen, and they in turn disseminate that information to the masses.
It all makes sense until you actually take the time think about where that news comes from. How does it happen? Who’s responsible for it? How the hell do these media companies get their hands on it?
All valid questions to ask, and all with very few legitimate, well-documented answers. What we do know is rumors make the tech world go ‘round, and companies themselves take full advantage of this fact. But that begs the question: are all rumors created equal?
Eh, not quite.
Sometimes Companies Actually Accidentally Leak Stuff
Before we delve into the shadier aspect of the tech rumor scene, it’s important for me to note that real accidental leaks sometimes do happen.
Just look at the iPhone 4, for instance. You all remember the story, but the way it goes is this: Gray Powell, a software engineer at Apple, was having a few beers at a small local bar to celebrate his 27th birthday. He was one of a few employees with the clearance to field test the unreleased-at-the-time iPhone 4.
A few beers down, Gray gets up and leaves the bar—leaving the prototype on the stool beside him. The phone was eventually picked up and purchased by the folks at Gizmodo, who delivered an in-depth, full-on dissection of the phone.
At first, it seemed a little too convenient for a prototype to be left on a barstool and somehow make its way to Gizmodo, but Powell was swiftly placed on administrative leave, and things certainly looked legit. In fact, the conjecture got so bad that Gizmodo even went to bat for themselves over it, even though everyone knows that feeding trolls is an editorial faux pas.
In reality, these kinds of accidental leaks happen all the time.
In the days leading up to the release of the Google Pixel back in October, a Canadian company accidentally leaked sales and marketing materials for the phone two whole days before its official launch.
And just last month, after coming off of a disastrous product recall for their flagship Galaxy Note 7 phone, Samsung sent a companywide email to all employees warning that now was important a time as ever to make sure they’re practicing proper privacy protocol and being as secretive as possible.
The email said specifically: “Leaks of operational secrets can cause irreversible ramifications, posing a great financial risk on the company and leading to broken partnerships and loss of trust.”
I know this because, in true industry fashion, the email was leaked to the press almost immediately after it was sent.
Sometimes Companies Get Clever
In the tech world, rumors and baseless speculation abound, and companies know it. They also understand the power of pre-release hype and go to some pretty extreme lengths to make sure people are compelled to check out their releases.
In the lead up to the Pixel release, Google released a series of mostly harmless hype ads and “installations” to tease consumers.
There was also this commercial from a security camera company called Nest (which Google acquired in 2014) that aired in the Netherlands and somehow managed to feature a Google Pixel — or, at least, something that looked a hell of a lot like the unreleased-at-the-time phone. Naturally, the internet had a shit-fit over it and the guys over at Android Police heard about it within hours.
Google is a repeat offender of this particular kind of “creative marketing.” In September of 2013, Google released a video on its website that featured a bunch of employees taking pictures and video of something being unveiled at Google HQ.
However, as the video pans the crowd, a phone held by one gentlemen (conveniently placed in the foreground) seems to feature a new kind of smartphone that no one had ever seen before.
Tech nerds caught on immediately, and before any major “damage” had been done, the video was removed from public viewing.
But Sometimes Companies Do “Controlled Leaks” — And That’s Dangerous for Journalism
Product leaks aren’t new. For as long as people have had mouths, we’ve been giving away each other’s secrets. That said, the tech industry has had a very long time to learn that people love a good rumor, and when rumors spread, people start talking — they create buzz.
The importance of that buzz is why every tech company and PR firm in the world have changed the definition of what a product leak actually means. In 2016, product leaks are synonymous with “pre-release previews.”
Today, everybody does it. Journalists like Jon Geller and Evan Blass have built entire careers out of reporting on various product leaks, and you can bet your ass they both work directly with brands to pump out the most interesting stuff. Can you blame them?
When high quality photos of Sony’s top secret superphone, the Xperia X Compact, leaked back in August (by none other than Blass, of course), the internet was confused by the high-res, almost ad-like quality of the leaked photos.
Prior to the Google Pixel release, there were so many high quality image and detail description leaks — everything from its storage capacity, to its camera features and even fucking color availability — leaked to literally dozens of online retailers, publications, and bloggers that people actually wrote stories about how annoying it was.
Of course, let’s not forget about Apple — the heavyweight kings of controlled product leaks. Honestly, for any Apple product you’re interested in learning more about before its release, a simple Google search will yield plenty of results — and that’s the whole point.
Headlines like this pop up that literally announce that Apple has leaked its own shit, so that popular tech gossip websites like Gizmodo, Engadget, BGR, Mashable, TechRadar, and a laundry list of others (including us) cover it and stoke the flames of consumer interest.
Tech leaks aren’t a thorn in a company’s side anymore; they’re a valuable marketing tool, and everyone who’s anyone employs a team of people to make sure media outlets hear about all the latest and greatest “leaks” on the internet.
If this article whet your appetite for juicy leaks, check out the latest on Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8.