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Google out-leaked the leakers at I/O: Here's what they had to say about it
On May 11, 2022, Google held its annual I/O developer conference. We fully expected some new hardware at the event, with the Google Pixel 6a being a sure bet. However, it was surprising to see just how much hardware the company revealed.
By the end of the keynote, Google had either fully launched or soft-launched six new products: the aforementioned Pixel 6a, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, the Pixel Watch, Pixel Buds Pro, and the Pixel Tablet. The latter, in particular, had close to zero information leaked before Google showed it off.
This got us thinking: How do prominent tech leakers feel about being “out-leaked” by Google itself? After all, Google spends big money trying to prevent information breaches while leakers make big money getting them anyway — which is something you may or may not support. We turned to two of the most prominent leakers to get their thoughts on the matter. Evan Blass (aka evleaks) and Steve Hemmerstoffer (aka OnLeaks) supplied us with their opinions on Google, leaking in general, and how this all might affect them in the future.
Were the leakers as surprised as us?
As it turns out, even one of the most prominent smartphone leakers had no idea Google would dump so much hardware all at once. “Just like everyone else, I wasn’t expecting Google to unveil the Pixel 7 series that soon,” Hemmerstoffer said. “Same for the Pixel Tablet, which hadn’t even been rumored ahead of that reveal.”
One can’t help but wonder how Google could keep such a tight lid on the Pixel Tablet while being unable to keep some of the other products a secret. Perhaps the tablet is in such an early stage of development that keeping it under wraps isn’t as difficult.
Remember that — despite how used to it we are — no company wants its products to leak early and outside of its control. The team that built a device would much rather control the narrative and present it to you in the most flattering light, instead of you learning about it through a couple of renders and bullet-point lists. Yes, some companies use leaks to their advantage, even going so far as to fake them. However, it is something companies like Google try their best to prevent, with varying results. Apple and Samsung have even started cracking down on known leakers.
However, Blass was less surprised that Google made these pre-announcements, even if he was surprised at what was actually announced. If you’ll remember, Google did a similar thing with a series of tweets before it launched the Google Pixel 6 series. It also gave a sneak preview of the Pixel 5 before it launched, although that was only a tease. “While I was definitely surprised by several of the products themselves, the fact that they’d pre-announce them like that was not all that unexpected,” he said, based on the Pixel 6 precedent.
Of course, both leakers were quick to point out that they had each unveiled major information on some of the products. Blass leaked the Pixel Watch about a week before it hit the stage, and Hemmerstoffer had shown off all three phones long before Google I/O began.
Will this change security surrounding Google leaks?
The second question we’re all asking ourselves is whether Google’s new habit of pre-announcing hardware is a response to its notoriously poor security. In general, we know almost everything about a new Google product long before it launches. Apple, by comparison, is much more secure. There are still chances for surprises at an Apple event, for example, whereas that’s not really the case for a Google event. At least, not until I/O 2022.
While we tend to think of leaks as a fun and exciting piece of news, companies like Google and Apple see them differently. They look at leakers like Hemmerstoffer and Blass as flies in the ointment. As such, Google could be moving away from preventative tactics — like tight security and NDAs — and going for moves that actually dissuade leakers, like with the early reveal of the Pixel Tablet.
Regardless, if Google’s pre-announcements of its own products are a strategy to get ahead of leaks, that might mean the company is changing up its security tactics. But both Hemmerstoffer and Blass are quick to shoot this theory down.
It doesn't appear Google's new attitude towards pre-announcements has affected its security practices.
“Considering the fact I was still able to leak an image of the final Pixel Watch design prior to the reveal … I don’t think much has changed internally,” Blass said. He posits that the only thing that’s changed is Google’s move to embrace the sneak preview with open arms.
Hemmerstoffer was also skeptical there have been any changes. “I haven’t heard anything regarding any security changes Google could have made recently,” he said. “The fact I was able to leak the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro seven months ahead of the expected release date seems to confirm this.”
If this continues, how will it affect leakers?
There is money to be made in the world of tech leaks. Whether or not you agree with it, a prominent leaker can make thousands of dollars by gaining early access to product information.
If Google makes a habit out of pre-launching its products, that could negatively affect the bottom lines of leakers around the world.
Hemmerstoffer is very aware of this. “These early previews obviously have a bad impact on my and others’ leaks,” he told us. However, he doesn’t think Google is taking things so far that it would dramatically affect the market for unofficial information. For that to happen, Google would need to be far more aggressive.
“If Google showed the Pixel 7 series before I could share my own leak back in February, that would have had a dramatic impact on my work,” Hemmerstoffer said. He did clarify, though, that sometimes unofficial leaks can be unaffected by official announcements.
Required reading: All Google Pixel phones released so far
“In 2019, Google was kind of forced to share a Pixel 4 teaser two days after I leaked it,” he said. “Had Google shared this days earlier, my leak probably would have had a less dramatic impact. But my complete Pixel 4 design leak shared a month after Google teased the device still did very well. In other words, limited previews would have a small impact, but a much more detailed — or, even worse, a full reveal — would have a dramatic impact.”
Blass is also optimistic that Google leaks won’t be affected much, considering how fervent people are for early information. “The more anticipated a device is, the more demand there is for granular leaks prior to its full reveal,” Blass said. “This means Google products have a pretty long runway in terms of ‘leakability’ before the market has been saturated.”
In other words, if Google really wants to hurt leakers, a full reveal very early on would do the trick. But would it ever do that?
What if Samsung, Apple, and others did the same thing?
“Google is only one company, and despite its impact in other areas, it’s still a relatively fringe player in most of the hardware categories in which it competes,” Blass explained. As such, it is unlikely we’ll see any larger companies follow Mountain View’s lead here. However, what if that weren’t the case? What if Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi, and the rest of the top players in the industry started to do what Google has done?
“Obviously, if other manufacturers decide to do [what Google did at I/O 2022], it would be catastrophic for the leak industry,” says Hemmerstoffer. Quite frankly, companies becoming transparent about what they are working on very early in the development cycle would make leaks unnecessary. However, both Hemmerstoffer and Blass don’t think this would ever happen.
Hemmerstoffer and Blass are both confident the tech leak industry isn't going anywhere.
“It behooves companies to keep their plans a secret for numerous reasons,” Blass said, “not the least of which is the fact that they don’t want consumers eschewing products already on the market — i.e., delaying purchases — for devices they anticipate down the road.”
So the leak industry isn’t likely to go out of business anytime soon, even if Google, Apple, and others would like it to. Hemmerstoffer, though, does point out that there is plenty of wiggle room. “Google wasn’t first to do this,” he said. “Chinese manufacturers such as HUAWEI, Xiaomi, OPPO, and many others tease and preview their devices well ahead of launches. This strategy hasn’t stopped leaks, but they surely reduce their impact.”
Is Google trying to get ahead of leaks?
As previously mentioned, the Pixel Tablet was an unknown entity before Rick Osterloh showed it off on stage. The tablet appears to be in such an early stage of development that Google could only give a vague release date of 2023.
One can’t help but wonder why, then, did Google feel the need to pre-announce the product at all? Is it possible the whole thing was to beat out the leakers?
“Oh absolutely, no doubt,” Hemmerstoffer said. “I think Google has been thinking about this for a while.” Hemmerstoffer pointed out the previously described Pixel 4 incident as a catalyst that then manifested in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 pre-announcements.
Blass, however, thinks it’s less about getting ahead of Google leaks and more about calculated risk. “In product categories it hasn’t been especially strong in, there’s less risk in cannibalizing near term sales,” he said. In other words, pre-announcements can build hype for a future product without making other Google products less enticing. “But the more successful you are, the bigger risk such a strategy becomes.”
As Google works to build out its ecosystem of products, it has a lot of room to play fast and loose with leaks and leakers.
Eventually, Google wants its hardware portfolio to look like Apple’s, in the sense that all the products work well together and carry a common design aesthetic. As the company works to build that out, it has a lot of room to play fast and loose with leaks and leakers. Once it solidifies itself, though, Google’s security will get much tighter.
But even that isn’t likely to mean the end of official previews. Blass points out that even Apple has pre-announced products when it entered a new industry. “Apple pre-announced the first Apple Watch and the iPhone prior to that,” he said.
The interesting takeaway here is that two of the tech industry’s biggest leakers admit that companies doing that all the time would hurt their work which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly totally ethical — or explicitly legal. It’s possible Google is now taking a more nuanced approach to leakers by announcing just enough to hurt them but not enough to overexpose a product. This could create a new environment for leakers like Hemmerstoffer and Blass, should it become more prevalent throughout the industry. It will be interesting to see how this affects leaks in the future.
Up next: The problem with product leaks