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article imageOp-Ed: Tech gossip site Think Secret closes after settlement with Apple

By Paul Wallis     Dec 20, 2007 in Technology
Industrial espionage isn’t new, but it has the potential to become a major growth industry. Apple has just settled a lawsuit with Think Secret which was based on access to information about Apple products.
Apple alleged the information had been obtained by Think Secret by inducement.
By the terms of the settlement, Think Secret is defunct, and a glacial silence hangs over just about all the obvious questions. As you can see from this Sydney Morning Herald article, actual information about the facts of the case, ironically, are in very short supply. The nearest thing to an actual breach of security is a disclosure before time (as a “prediction”) of new Apple products, although that begs the question of any other uses for this information.
Think Secret wasn’t accused of theft, per se, more like having information it wasn’t supposed to have, and the issue was how that info was obtained.
There’s a very different version of that. Information theft, by bribery or other means, poses big problems. It’s fine to be anti-corporate, fighting the machine, etc, but this is business, not idealism, at work. It has roughly the same ideology as swiping a car. It’s done for money, and it pays well.
There are a lot of ramifications for science in this situation, which highlights major problems in handling intellectual property, as well as security.
Scientific product originates by someone doing the necessary thinking, research and work. Love or hate the corporates, they’re keeping the science going. This case highlights major risks to science, as well as global corporations.
Information is a commodity, and years of work can be undercut by industrial and scientific bloodsucking, when it’s applied to actually hijacking products and information. Science is a much more valuable commodity, and far more fragile in the way it works. As an illustration of this, Think Secret appears to have been considered to be worth shutting down, even if there’s no indication of actual product theft and development.
The crunch scenario is potentially killing off science which can produce more, as well as some nasty issues about products and their related rights. Turned into an industry of its own, industrial espionage is dangerous. Science is facing a possible nightmare. You can either be a scientist or a security guard. Do both, and you’d never sleep.
Apple didn’t have a lot of choice in how it handled this situation. It had to send a message that it would protect its products, as well as the specifics of the Think Secret case. Unintentionally, it might have also drawn attention to an income source for those people who don’t mind having a few extra million.
Apple’s competitors, who have a vested interest in protecting their own products, might not be willing participants in anything which encourages industrial theft. It’s not in their interests, either.
It is, however, a business which would be very lucrative for external markets. Intellectual property theft, and blatant theft of products, have been problems for a long time. It’s adding major cost to research, and the level of surveillance required to protect products is no joke. Legal and technical protection don’t come cheap. All of that adds costs to users, too.
There’s a gap in law here, too, and it works against developers because of the requirement for proof. Worse, by far, it happens after the event. That’s almost useless, if not entirely.
There’s a possible cure. Information has to be intelligible for a thief to use it. It’s quite easy to scramble and deploy information so that it’s useless without the rest of the data. Research can be phased and staged, so no end product, or concept, is visible.
You could do your data in multilevel software, requiring a few thousand custom programs to run it. Or write it in whole new languages, having to decrypt a thousand times in different locations before it was readable. Cheaper than lawyers, over time.
Imagine trying to read a CAD design with the wrong software.
Even the research concept can be turned into a set of elements which can only be deciphered and used by those who are supposed to be able use it..
Meaning access to sensitive data is seriously limited, and can only come from a few sources. So access points would be well known, and the risk to those involved much higher, and there’d be fewer places to check.
Theft of anything would be of worthless data, inoperable without the rest of the data and the basic ideas, and if a bit of disinformation is added to the mix, misleading, preferably very much so.
Industrial thieves are behind the eight ball in that they can’t control what they steal. Usually, they don’t understand it, and those trying to get that information can’t control that methodology either. It’d take a lot of work to get enough insight to know what to steal.
Science needs to be protected, because real damage can be done to it by the kind of situations created by theft. Careers can derail, and far worse for researchers, a lot of time is wasted, and money compromised or lost. They can’t work, and their skills aren’t being used.
The value of science to humanity is in the work and those who do the work. Successful researchers can spend their whole lives building important science. They and their work are more valuable than any one product, and they’re the ones whose efforts have been driving the big breakthroughs of the last 20 years.
Animals can steal. Theft is a valueless thing. Thieves produce nothing.
Even the obnoxious, greedy, pharmaceutical industry produces something, however bizarrely.
How’s that for a character reference?
More about Apple, Think secret, Intellectual property