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Josh Miller

Essential admits it accidentally leaked customer info

CEO Andy Rubin issues a narrow apology.

Josh Miller/CNET

Essential, a tiny 100-person smartphone company from the man behind Android, just screwed up in a particularly embarassing way. 

Last night, it accidentally shared personally identifying information -- including driver's licenses -- of some customers with others, seemingly as part of an attempt to verify some would-be phone buyers' identities ahead of shipment. 

At first, some customers (at the XDA-developers forum and r/Essential subreddit) assumed it was a ploy -- a phishing scam created to prey on buyers anxiously awaiting their new Essential Phone, so the data could later be used for identity theft. But in a new blog post on Essential's site, founder and CEO Andy Rubin admits it was the company's error.

"Yesterday, we made an error in our customer care function that resulted in personal information from approximately 70 customers being shared with a small group of other customers. We have disabled the misconfigured account and have taken steps internally to add safeguards against this happening again in the future," he writes. "We sincerely apologize for our error." 

Affected customers will be offered a year of LifeLock, an identity theft protection service.

It's a heck of a mistake, and it's worth noting that Rubin doesn't explain or apologize for Essential in any other way in the blog post, despite ongoing anecdotal reports that Essential still hasn't shipped many preorders two months after they were originally promised and over a week after it began charging people's credit cards. We've also seen anecdotal (not necessarily widespread) reports of orders being canceled and Sprint orders being subject to delay. 

For a company that relies so much on trust -- trust that the company will stick around to support buyers, trust that the phone's modular accessory port will have future uses and trust that the phone's initially troublesome camera will see quick and potent updates -- the company isn't doing a great job of assuring its early adopters.

Still, other customers are reporting shipping confirmation emails, and the company has already issued a surprising number of software updates to my review unit in a short span of time. We'll have to wait and see.

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