In a sign of escalation in its war against leakers, Apple sent a cease and desist letter to a Chinese citizen who advertised stolen iPhone prototypes on social media, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Motherboard.
In 2019, a Motherboard investigation revealed the shadowy market for stolen Apple prototypes. The little-known market is allegedly fueled by mysterious Chinese Apple or Foxconn employees who sneak the hardware out of factories like Longhua in Shenzhen. Resellers then acquire the devices and sell them to collectors or to hackers looking for an edge in finding flaws and developing exploits for the iPhone.
At the time, Apple did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear how much the company knew about this gray market or what it was doing or planning to do about it. This cease and desist letter shows how Apple is going after resellers and how it's trying to clamp down on the gray market they’re part of.
The letter was sent by Fangda Partners, Apple's law firm in China, on June 18, 2021. In the letter, Apple asked the seller to stop acquiring, advertising, and selling leaked Apple devices, and requested a list of anyone who provided them with the leaked devices. In other words, Apple wants the reseller to say who gave them the devices. Finally, the company requested the seller to sign a document promising to comply with the request within 14 days of receiving the letter.
"You have disclosed without authorization a large amount of information related to Apple's unreleased and rumored products, which has constituted a deliberate infringement of Apple's trade secrets," the letter read.
"Through investigation, Apple has obtained relevant evidence about your unauthorized disclosure of Apple’s unreleased and rumored products," the letter continued. "Your intentional infringement is specifically manifested as: publishing unpublished information about Apple’s new products through social media platforms, including but not limited to the design and performance of these new products."
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In 2019, Motherboard identified several people who advertised and sold stolen Apple devices on social media. One of the sellers, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of further angering Apple, confirmed that they’d received the letter.
"They want to know how the information leaked and how the leaked items in the supply chain were sold to certain people," the seller said in an online chat.
The Twitter account of another seller, who went by Mr. White, does not exist anymore. The latest time the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine archived the account when it was still active was June 11, just a few days before the Apple letter went out. A seller who goes by Jin Store on Twitter told Motherboard that he did not receive a letter. Sing1e, another seller, did not respond to a request for comment.
It's unclear how many people Apple sent cease and desist letters to.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
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