Don’t Give Apple a Pass on Not Answering the Phones

In the Gizmodo/iPhone affair, which involved a police raid on the home of a blogger who wrote a review of a prototype Apple iPhone found in a bar (some background and links to more background here), many bloggers and writers have opined that the iPhone was clearly stolen property and that Gizmodo’s receipt of it was illegal. I don’t think that is clear at all.

If someone loses something and you find it, should you give it back? Absolutely. What gets lost in the iPhone story, however, is that the finder, whose name we don’t seem to know, did try to return it. In addition to asking around the bar, the finder went much further. Here is what Gizmodo said about efforts to return the phone once the finder realized it must belong to Apple:

He reached for a phone and called a lot of Apple numbers and tried to find someone who was at least willing to transfer his call to the right person, but no luck. No one took him seriously and all he got for his troubles was a ticket number.

He thought that eventually the ticket would move up high enough and that he would receive a call back, but his phone never rang.

What more was the finder supposed to do? It is absurd to blame the finder for not returning the phone to Apple. The finder tried. It is not the finder’s fault that Apple is so bloated with bureaucracy that they won’t return important phone calls. Don’t give Apple a pass here.

Big corporations make a well-thought-out judgment about how easy or difficult they will make it for regular citizens to get in touch with them. Many huge enterprises seek to benefit their bottom line by dodging phone calls from the public. They staff the phone lines sparsely, and they require members of the public to go through onerous automated response systems. Those who do answer the phones are people with little training and virtually no discretion or power. Then the same companies avoid revealing inside phone numbers for executives.

The fact is, being ready and willing to talk to disgruntled customers and irate citizens is expensive. Thus, ignoring attempts of the public to communicate with a big company is profitable and convenient.

As a consumer, I find it inconvenient and unprofitable to read the fine print that comes with credit card bills and to go through the lengthy terms of use (that are constantly changing) for software installs and updates – including Apple’s. I doubt Apple or the banks would give me a pass in this regard. Can you imagine them saying, “I understand you’re busy. We can’t expect you to be bound by those terms.”? No, of course not. By the same token, no one should give Apple a pass on answering phone calls from the public.

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