A intriguing article appeared on the websites of Fairfax Media’s The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers this morning. Purporting to tell the story of a young man “who claims to be an adult”, Ben Grubb’s article was about Sonny Dickson, a “teenager from regional Victoria with an interest in fashion” who funds his expensive purchases by leaking prototypes of Apple products before they are revealed.
The story was curious for a couple of reasons. First, Dickson apparently refused to be photographed, instead supplying a picture of himself. It’s the same picture that appears just about everywhere else on the net – on his Google+, his App.net, FourSquare, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Twitter accounts for starters. And both his Facebook page and Twitter account seem full of frequent requests for ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ (“so I can DM you”).
Then there was Dickson’s claim that he was sourcing his information from contacts he’d made in various forums and chatrooms around the globe. “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,” said the article. But, as anyone who has been following recent Apple-related stories in China knows, relying on Google Translate for Chinese translations is fraught at best, completely incomprehensible at worst.
While some who commented on the Fairfax website smelled a rat, with one in particular asserting that the story should have been posted on 1 April, not 1 August, others were simply concerned about the legality of Dickson’s actions, regarding his claims of sourcing prototypes and then on-selling them to make money.
In another strange aspect of the story, three of the photographs accompanying the article were simply Instagrams provided by Dickson of goods he has bought with his supposedly ill-gotten gains – some Louis Vuitton sunglasses, a Tissot watch and a Burberry wallet… And of course, heading the piece, there was that ubiquitous ‘knowing’ shot of the three-quarter faced Dickson narrowing his eyes at the camera, apparently in school uniform and sporting the oh-so familiar white earbuds.
But while all of this makes it sounds like the story is utter fabrication, perhaps it can all be taken at face value after all. And Dickson is simply better than most at making sense of Google Translate. Grubb notes that the young leaker’s accurate revelations include “details about the 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”. All of those revelations were posted to influential news/rumour site 9to5Mac, which counts Dickson as a contributor.
Grubb’s article quotes an unnamed blogger who has been collaborating with Dickson, who said, “[Dickson] has some connections to Apple’s Asia supply chain to obtain these parts and I find Sonny very dedicated.” And it was one of these connections who helped him with one of his most notable scoops – publishing photos of the iPad mini‘s back-casing 18 days before if was officially revealed by Apple in October last year.
And, as for that snap? We contacted journalist Ben Grubb, who confirmed it is actually genuine. “I used a Skype video chat to communicate with him and it was clearly the same guy in the picture he sent me. I’ve also seen some ID and on the ID (a different picture), it’s also the same guy,” said Grubb in an email.
So perhaps all those constant requests for likes on his Facebook page and follows on his Twitter account aren’t sinister, but simple attempts at networking, and agreeing to be interviewed by the press merely youthful big-noting and an understandable glee at the idea of his own success.
“Apple watches me every single day,” he claims in the article, “They always want to know what I know.”
And maybe he just really, really likes that picture of himself…
by Macworld Australia staff