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Why Apple's era of secrecy is over

By Pete Cashmore, Special to CNN
Mashable's Pete Cashmore says blogs are not to blame for "the rapid erosion of Apple's fortress."
Mashable's Pete Cashmore says blogs are not to blame for "the rapid erosion of Apple's fortress."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Vietnamese Web site posted photos and a video clip of the next generation iPhone
  • Gizmodo paid $5,000 for the iPhone, while Taoviet reportedly put down $4,000
  • Two major leaks in two months is a situation virtually unheard of at Apple
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Editor's Note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about social media. He writes a weekly column about social networking and technology for CNN.com.

London, England (CNN) -- Apple, long known for its culture of secrecy, is suddenly springing leaks. Big ones.

Photos and a video clip of the next generation iPhone, not expected to launch until next month, appeared this week on a Vietnamese Web site. It's the second time an iPhone 4G has fallen into the wrong hands following gadget blog Gizmodo's purchase of a lost prototype in April.

Is Apple's long era of secrecy finally coming to an end? Yes -- and we're to blame.

The $5000 iPhone

Two major leaks in two months is a situation virtually unheard of at the buttoned-up tech firm. We're not talking about grainy snapshots either: Both Gizmodo and Vietnamese tech forum Taoviet acquired complete handsets, photographing them, recording video clips and even dismantling them to expose every last inch. Our nerd voyeurism, it seems, knows no bounds.

Leaked iPhones command a high price, too: Gizmodo paid $5,000 for the prized device, while Taoviet reportedly put down $4,000 for the privilege. The former is currently involved in a criminal investigation to determine whether the parties involved broke the law.

Why are gadget blogs prepared to part with thousands of dollars -- and risk a visit from law enforcement -- to get their hands on the latest tech toy? The simple answer is "page views". Lots of them. Gizmodo's exposé on the iPhone 4G has received more than 10 million views, not to mention name recognition from major media outlets -- including a piece on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show". A few thousand dollars is a bargain for the biggest technology scoop of the year.

But blogs aren't to blame for the end of secrecy: We are.

"Infogreed"

Blogs wouldn't exert their resources on tracking down unreleased Apple products if there wasn't a high demand for such scoops; there undoubtedly is. Our lust for information -- a need to know anything, everything, right now -- continues to grow apace, fueled by Google, Wikipedia, Twitter and a bevy of "real-time" web services.

Ignorance is short-lived these days. When we want to know something -- anything -- a Google search can find the answer in less than a second. Waiting until you get home isn't necessary either: Just pull up Google or Wikipedia on your smartphone and your "infogreed" (or "infolust") is immediately satisfied.

A new wave of "real-time" web startups has increased our expectations further: Twitter and Facebook users know exactly what all their friends are doing, all the time. Members of Foursquare and Gowalla receive updates on their friends' exact locations. Blippy devotees track each others' credit card purchases in real-time -- updates contain both the location of the transaction and the amount.

For those accustomed to such instant gratification, a state of "not knowing" is torturous. We don't merely want to know every salacious detail about Apple's new device -- we feel we have a right to do so. It's as if Apple, by attempting to keep its unreleased products under wraps, is denying us the pill that satiates our info-addiction.

An End to Secrecy

It's not blogs that are to blame for the rapid erosion of Apple's fortress, then -- they're merely reacting to readers' wants. Prototype iPhones wouldn't be changing hands for thousands if technophiles weren't gorging upon every info-morsel extracted from Apple HQ.

As our appetite for knowledge becomes virtually insatiable, blogs will go to increasingly perilous lengths to score a scoop -- even the specter of a criminal investigation is unlikely to shake their resolve. Under such circumstances, secrecy is not only unsustainable, it's abhorrent. Apple's ramparts, it seems, may crumble.

But getting what we want may not be what's best for us: Like fast food, instant gratification may ultimately prove unfulfilling.

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