iPhone 4 leaker tells all on Reddit AMA

After finding an iPhone 4 prototype in a bar in 2010, Brian Hogan leaked it to the press -- which came with some high-stakes consequences. Now, Hogan tells his side of the story.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
Brian Hogan, the man who acknowledged finding and selling an iPhone 4 prototype and was charged with theft. Brian Hogan's Facebook page.

Brian Hogan knew he had something valuable when he discovered that the cell phone he found in a California bar in 2010 was actually an unreleased iPhone prototype. However, it quickly led to some poor decisions, he now admits.

Three years down the line, Hogan feels ready to talk about the saga, which he did on Tuesday via a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session titled "I leaked the iPhone 4."

"I rarely talk about topic with people, but my conscience is clear, I'm over the embarrassment, and life's too short for some of the guilt I was placing upon myself about it," Hogan said.

When Hogan was 21 years old, he was drinking at a bar in Redwood City and found a lone cell phone sitting on a bar stool. He tried to find the phone's owner, but when he was unsuccessful he decided to take the phone with him "having intentions of figuring out who the phone belonged to and giving it back," Hogan said.

"The next day I woke up and actually forgot that I had the phone at first, then went about trying to figure out who it belonged to," Hogan said. "First I noticed that the screen looked like it had a higher resolution than any iPhone I had seen, then that the case had plastic pieces/buttons in strange places. When I took the case off I found an iPhone with a flat back, flat edges, and a forward facing camera. There were two bar code stickers on the back, and there were a series of x's instead of a serial number. I was very curious/excited at this point, but I had no idea what I had."

Hogan and his friend first called Apple, but were blown off by whoever answered the phone. Next they called various tech blogs offering to let them see the phone in exchange for money. Eventually Gizmodo took the bait, paid Hogan $5,000, and published an article that leaked the iPhone's specs.

What came next was the wrath of Apple, police investigations, and a public court case. Hard information about unreleased Apple products rarely leaks and it's even more rare that the public gets a look at one of the company's prototypes. A story about the prototype and the events that followed stirred huge interest among Apple fans.

Police launched a theft investigation and served a subpoena at the home of one of Gizmodo's editors. Gawker Media, Gizmodo's parent company, voluntarily agreed to turn over information related to the acquisition of the phone.

After Hogan and his friend were discovered, they were charged with misdemeanor theft. Eventually, with the finale of the court case, the two men pleaded no contest to "theft of lost property," which Apple claimed was so valuable that a price could not be placed on it, and were sentenced to one year of probation, 40 hours of public service, and a requirement that each pay $125 in restitution to Apple.

In the Reddit AMA, Hogan repeatedly said that he made the wrong decision by selling the device to Gizmodo.

"I would have done lots differently looking back now, but how does anyone know what do do [sic] in that situation, let alone the 21 year old version of myself," he said. "What would you have done if you thought you had an unreleased iPhone?"