An investigative report by Motherboard reveals that a writer of a renowned Apple-focused website 9to5Mac paid a source $500 in Bitcoin for data of the iPhone XR prototype. In 2018, Guilherme Rambo wrote an exclusive article on upcoming iPad Pro models based on the information extracted from the stolen smartphone prototype.
As noted, paying a source is considered an unethical practice in journalism. And the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists in the U.S states that journalists should “be wary of sources offering information for favors or money.” Rambo, who has not been covering leaks since 2019, confirms the story and maintains that that was the only time he had paid a source for information. He also added that his superior at 9to5Mac did not know of the payment.
9to5Mac takes down posts based on data from Apple’s stolen iPhone XR prototype
The details of the transaction were revealed to Motherboard by Andrey Shumeyko, Rambo’s source and a member of the “Apple internal” community that trades leaked data, information, stolen iPhone prototypes. Rambo had told Shumeyko that 9to5Mac doesn’t pay source but agreed to pay when Shumeyko told him of data extracted from an iPhone XR prototype.
During a previous conversation with Shumeyko, Rambo told him that “9to5 doesn’t pay sources,” according to a video recording of the chat between the two. But then, when Shumeyko told him he had data extracted from an iPhone XR prototype, Rambo said: “I would pay you for that dump.”
Shumeyko, who is also known as YRH04E and JVHResearch online, told Motherboard that Rambo sent him two payments of 0.031 and 0.05 bitcoin (worth around $500 at the time, but worth $3,592 today) in exchange for the data, which contained references to the upcoming iPad pro features. Shumeyko also shared records of the two transactions.
The article based on that data listed precise details of the 2018 iPad Pro models including their processors, displays, connectivity options, and port. Since the discovery of information gained via unethical means, the publisher has updated the article with a disclaimer: “This post has been removed due to 9to5Mac’s sourcing policies.”
Seth Weintraub, the founder, and publisher of 9to5Mac told Motherboard that “we don’t pay sources” and adding that he does not recall it ever happening. He called Rambo a standup guy, who will continue to do his “unrelated Apple Developer Podcast” on the network.
Apple usually destroys prototypes, but some models are sneaked out and sold to collectors. Shumeyko claimed to have bought the iPhone XR prototype from a collector. Justifying his decision to purchase information, Rambo said he didn’t think that the bought data could be considered stolen.
“I didn’t think of it that way. I guess I didn’t realize back then that this could be the case. In my mind what had happened was this was a unit that went to someplace to be destroyed and wasn’t properly destroyed, which is what the prototype people always talk about. Now I know better. But back then I guess I didn’t. I thought it was like this, it was supposed to have been destroyed, but somehow it wasn’t.”
Recently, Apple sent a cease and desist letter to a Chinese leaker who was found selling stolen iPhone prototypes on Twitter. The letter warned the leaker that if he didn’t share his sources, he would be reported to the police. But the irony of the situation is that Shumeyko was working for Apple providing it names of the leakers from the Apple internal community and company employees who leaked information.