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iLeak Apple secrets from a corner of regional Australia

Apple leaker Sonny Dickson.

Apple leaker Sonny Dickson.

A teenager from regional Victoria with an interest in fashion is causing apparent grief for technology giant Apple by leaking prototypes of its products online weeks, if not months, before they are officially unveiled.

The young man, who claims to be an adult and showed Fairfax Media a form of ID to corroborate this, is also making money in the process by selling some of the goods he reveals.

With the money he receives, Sonny Dickson buys new gadgets and expensive fashion items such as brand-name watches, wallets, cologne and sunglasses, then posts about them on Instagram.

Apple leaker Sonny Dickson purchases brand-name fashion items, like these Louis Vuitton sunglasses, with the money he makes from selling Apple prototypes.

Apple leaker Sonny Dickson purchases brand-name fashion items, like these Louis Vuitton sunglasses, with the money he makes from selling Apple prototypes.

Well known for attempting to keep a tight lid on leaks, Apple seems to have been unable or unwilling to stop him. This is likely because he is not an Apple employee or a worker from one of its suppliers' factories, but a person with strong contacts who seem ready to leak Apple information to him.

He didn't want to be photographed and asked that his age not be published but supplied the photo for this story.

Mr Dickson has been distributing photos of leaked Apple device prototypes for a number of years. In Skype and phone interviews with Fairfax Media, he said he also had a keen interest in uncovering upcoming features in Apple operating systems by trawling through developer code for signs engineers have left behind.

A Burberry wallet Sonny purchased.

A Burberry wallet Sonny purchased.

A blogger who has worked with him to publish the leaked prototypes said Mr Dickson had made a name for himself in the trade of Apple-owned material "which no one else would post online".

"He also clearly has some connections in Apple's Asia supply chain to obtain these parts, and I find Sonny very dedicated," the blogger said.

Mr Dickson said he first developed an interest in Apple in 2007, when the iPhone came out. Since then, through his supplier contacts in China and Apple sources in Cupertino, California, he has scored numerous scoops by posting information to his Twitter followers (he has more than 7400) or on other sites. Most notably, he published photos on October 5 of the iPad mini's back-casing before the device was officially unveiled by Apple 18 days later.

A Tiscott watch Sonny bought.

A Tiscott watch Sonny bought.

He has also revealed internal Apple training videos (since taken down by YouTube due to a copyright claim by Apple) and details about the iPhone 5's battery, its motherboard, Lightning cable and nine-pin connector, and other components before their unveiling. He also leaked information about an iPhone carrying developer software and meant only for Apple staff.

One of his latest leaks, which has yet to be proven true, includes photos of what appears to be the casing of a cheaper, plastic iPhone that he said would come in different colours.

"Apple watches me every single day," Mr Dickson said, referring to his website's analytics data, which he claimed show that in a recent one-month period it was viewed at least 100 times by Apple staff.

A picture of the iPad mini back-casing Sonny posted before the mini's unveiling. The only thing that changed before launch was the removal of what appears to be a second microphone at the top centre.

A picture of the iPad mini back-casing Sonny posted before the mini's unveiling. The only thing that changed before launch was the removal of what appears to be a second microphone at the top centre.

"They always want to know what I know," he said.

His photos often give Apple watchers an idea of what might be included in upcoming Apple products – or in some cases what might not make the final cut. In one case, when many believed near-field communication and a fingerprint scanner would be included in the iPhone 5, Mr Dickson was able to rule this out by showing photos that proved this was wrong.

"It wasn't going to happen," Mr Dickson said of NFC and fingerprint scanning.

A picture Sonny posted of an iPhone 5 battery before the phone's launch. The battery and specifications listed on it turned out to be true.

A picture Sonny posted of an iPhone 5 battery before the phone's launch. The battery and specifications listed on it turned out to be true.

"People thought it was going to, but I said it wasn't going to happen and I found out. People said there was a part in the screen, and then I found out it wasn't actually in there. So I told the internet about it."

He said he developed relationships with his sources not by flying to the US or China, but by hanging out in online forums or on Chinese social networking websites like Weibo.com. He uses Google Translate, an online translation service, to communicate with non-English-speaking sources.

"Over the years I've collected friends and sources from China and Apple … So I've got a really good bond with them [and] they tell me information they shouldn't and then I just post it."

Making money

As well as leaking photos and information on Apple device prototypes, which he mostly receives directly from factories, Mr Dickson has also made a business out of selling them. He also runs an iPhone repair business for people local to him.

"What I do online is kind of turning into a business because it can pay my bills and pay for my Apple products and stuff like that," he said.

"If I need money, I can get money basically. It's not really like a wage [but] if I need something I can just get it from someone [and] if I need to get a new iPhone, I'd find a prototype and then sell it off and then I'd get the money [for it] from that."

Although he admits he could be breaking the law by on-selling the goods, he said he believes he has found a way around getting into trouble.

"You could say I'm breaking the law," he said, "but I have changed [the buying and selling process] so that I don't actually have to touch the devices any more. I'm a middleman."

He said he changed his strategy in January after one of his sources told him that Apple's global security team was about to start an investigation.

Within 20 hours of hearing this, he sold and mailed all of the prototypes in his possession to a friend in the US, he said.

"I had to get rid of them."

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

twitter This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

twitter This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

43 comments

  • Apple should stop stalking this kid and employ him. He seems to have a good grasp on how to exploit people in order to sell redundant products.

    Commenter
    Miketrix
    Date and time
    August 01, 2013, 2:52AM
    • Yeah nice try Miketrix.

      Commenter
      Griffo
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 7:53AM
    • - 2GB

      Commenter
      Adam I
      Location
      Keilor
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 8:07AM
    • So someone posts details about a consumer product days before they become official. Wow, this is news?!

      I can think of 1000 things more newsworthy than this.

      Commenter
      jg
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 8:15AM
    • Yeah, they should definitely reward his bad behaviour by employing him... seriously.

      Commenter
      Lina
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 9:02AM
    • Lina, why not? They employ hackers all the time.

      Jeeze, everyone is so damn uppity today. I reckon good on the kid. I like him.

      Commenter
      AT
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 9:33AM
    • excellent call Miketrix. Bravo!

      oh wow, a Tissot...

      Commenter
      The modern prometheus
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 10:41AM
  • How do you spell "Tissot"?

    Commenter
    zapkvr
    Location
    Geelong
    Date and time
    August 01, 2013, 6:17AM
    • A Tissot is a "Brand name" watch? On what planet? Maybe in the same brand space as Seiko and Swatch - but hardly worth bragging about.

      Commenter
      DT
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 8:19AM
    • When its printed on the watch in the photo above the text you'd think they could get it right...

      Commenter
      Mikka
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 8:24AM

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