Unless you've been carefully monitoring your tech blog bylines for years (or are a devout and longtime Engadget / Pocketnow reader), you've probably never heard of a man named Evan Blass. This has actually been a good thing for Evan, who for over a year (with a long break during 2012) has operated the now quite-well-known @evleaks Twitter account, leaking various phones, tablets, and product names to an eager public.
As you may have guessed by the title, and that first paragraph, Evan has decided to remove the question of identity from that account, and he's decided to make that fact official on Android Police - though don't expect to see him reveal his sources or techniques anytime soon.
If you aren't familiar with @evleaks, well, just check out Android Police when you do a query for that term: there are 48 articles mentioning the infamous leaker, most of them showcasing his handiwork. Search the web at large and you'll find thousands, if not tens of thousands, of blog entries directly referencing his leaks. Google "evleaks" and you'll end up with over 900,000 results.
Some recent notables? He leaked images of what is almost definitely the AT&T version of the Moto X. He revealed video stills of what is likely LG's upcoming Optimus G2. He provided a stunning level of detail on HTC's alleged upcoming phablet. He posted a high-quality render of the HTC One well before any more authentic images of the device were discovered - that was one that even we ended up fooled on.
While his Twitter follower count of 31,500 (approximately, at the time of this writing) doesn't exactly scream "celebrity," it's not the quantity, but the quality of those followers - it really is the "who's who" of tech journalism. Evan has amassed ranks that include the likes of Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal, Lance Ulanoff (Editor in Chief, Mashable), Dan Farber (Editor in Chief, CNET), Ina Fried (All Things Digital), Peter Rojas (Co-founder: Gizmodo, Engadget, Joystiq), and dozens of notable writers, editors, and tech personalities. Of course, the companies whose products he leaks also have an interest in the account: LG, ASUS, NVIDIA, and likely most other mobile tech giants keep a quiet eye on what comes out of his feed. After all, almost every success for @evleaks is a failure for someone. Evan has also managed to gain over 10,000 followers on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, where his full translated handle is, and I'm not kidding, "Great God evleaks" - a name he claims was given to him by the Chinese tech press.
Evan's first big job in tech was with Engadget, where he worked from 2005-2008, eventually achieving the rank of Senior Editor. Believe it or not, Evan at one point was responsible for training Joshua Topolsky and Nilay Patel, Editor in Chief and Managing Editor of The Verge, respectively. He knew Jonathan Geller before he was The Boy Genius - and it's a little hard to ignore the notion that perhaps Geller inspired Blass, in part, with his anonymous leaking. He then went on to help build the failed website Obsessable.com, whose publication platform actually now powers TMZ. Evan then worked at Pocketnow.com as Managing Editor from 2010-2012, where he became infamous (to both readers and HTC) for his various and consistently high-quality leaks of HTC phones. After leaving PN, he started the @evleaks Twitter account.
The account itself has had an interesting history. It started in early 2012, but went silent for months and was then deleted. The leaks returned in August last year, and they've been flowing ever since. Evleaks has appeared on sponsored partner posts at various blogs, lending them an exclusive chance to publish juicy material while also promoting the @evleaks handle. More recently, sponsored tweets have appeared on the account. Why Twitter? Well, Evan has told me it's easy, and a good way to grab attention. Apparently so: evleaks.com is currently being squatted (for $4500, apparently), as is facebook.com/evleaks.
So, how has Evan kept himself secret for over a year? Well, it's not exactly a complete secret. In fact, several prominent tech blogs (us included) have known exactly who Evan is and that he is behind @evleaks, and have complied with his wishes to keep his identity undisclosed - until now.
I've known the man behind evleaks since early this year, and we've had many conversations. About leaks, journalism, and mobile technology generally. I've come to know Evan as what I would call a friend, and while he may not always be the most gentle soul behind closed doors - you will surely find individuals ready and willing to bash him now that this information is public - Evan is an incredibly smart guy, and the mobile tech world's current most prominent leaker. (You can't ignore success.) So, below is my interview with Evan, discussing his history, his leaks, and a few things he's not too keen on revealing just yet.
AP: Evan, with your substantial history in tech blogging and long list of accurate leaks, one has to wonder: why did you go solo? You obviously bring some valuable assets to the table.
EB: I have multiple sclerosis, and can't commit to full-time work anymore. I tried to go back to 9 to 5 at, uh, 9-to-5 Google, but it quickly became clear that my disease is too unpredictable after fifteen-plus years.
AP: What was the deal with Pocketnow - why did that relationship end?
EB: Brandon (the owner and editor-in-chief) wanted to move the site in a different direction -- scoop traffic is temporal -- and he was kind enough to find a quote-unquote desk job for me. But it was not a good fit.
AP: How exactly do you stumble upon these leaks - industry sources? More covert or nefarious means? How much do your sources vary, and do you have anyone helping you out?
EB: I make it a wholesale policy not to discuss sources with anyone, ever. It has earned me a good reputation, I think.
EB: Eventually someone was going to out me, and I wanted to take that off the table as much as I could. However, my "coming out" had all the impact of...well, nothing.
AP: What was the motivation to leak? Was it just part of the job, or did you have a specific interest in outing unreleased products?
EB: Not sure that it was ever a conscious decision. Eventually it became part of the job, but at first -- especially when you're starting out as a writer -- you're just happy to get any exclusive that you can, whenever you can. Regular scoops, like those published by people such as Tom Warren and Mark Gurman, are the result of a lot of a time and patience.
AP: Legal issues aside, do you feel as though you're wronging these companies by outing their unreleased products?
EB: In some respects I do, sure. I'm well aware that products go through a very carefully planned journey from conception to release, and what I do interferes with that plan. I try to be as responsible as possible about it, but at the end of the day, I may have made someone's launch a little less magical, and that sucks. I guess I take some solace in the fact that the same people affected by a leak one day are eagerly checking out a leak of their competitors' product the next day. There's great appeal in having insider information.
AP: You seem to have a particularly strong pulse on Nokia and HTC products. Why is that?
EB: Controlled leaks, obviously. Those two companies' CEOs (I get to call them Steve and Pete) regularly invite me over for drinks, entertainment, and plenty of hot, pre-launch phone action. [SARCASM]
AP: There's been a lot of talk about the times you've been wrong, and there's no question that's happened in the past. What's the one "leak" you wish you could take back?
EB: That's pretty clear. I had gotten imagery that was almost surely just placeholder artwork of the Samsung Galaxy S4 -- sourced from retailer Expansys, those peaches -- but I thought that even those mockups might speak to features or design aspects of the real handset. I tweeted out the pics at the height of Galaxy fever, captioned with nothing but trailing ellipses (...), and mistakenly assumed that the message would be clear. Once I saw them being reported as @evleaks-endorsed renders, I pulled down the tweets, but of course that just gave the situation even more of an appearance of impropriety.
AP: What do you think was your best "leak," and why?
EB: Strictly speaking, my best leak was probably a near-complete rundown of the new specs and features that consumers could expect from the upcoming Windows Phone 8, up until that point only known by its codename, Apollo. The story was based on a video of WP product manager and Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore, and intended for partners at Nokia. But my favorite exclusive wasn't strictly a leak at all: it was the tracking down and publication of a photo taken with the then-unreleased iPhone 4S (at the time referred to as the iPhone 5). The picture had a great backstory, as it was a plate of sushi captured by an Apple engineer eating in the cafeteria at 1 Infinite Loop (according to the geotagged EXIF data)
AP: Has it become harder to leak? Are these companies really catching on, getting stricter about where their information ends up?
EB: Of course. Companies are constantly learning and changing tactics. Some have even gone so far as to leak their own products in a clever bit of insurance against future leaks.
AP: What are you going to do going forward? Keep leaking? Will the @evleaks handle continue to be active?
EB: I've always thought of @evleaks as more of a pen name than a mask, so in my mind, nothing has really changed. I guess that remains to be seen, though.
AP: Can you think of a leak you thought was trivial at the time, but turned out to be massive once it was publicized?
EB: I didn't predict quite how positively people would react to an in-the-wild shot of what will very likely turn out to be the LG G2 (successor to the Optimus G). It's a sexy-looking handset, to be sure, but its nearly bezel-less frame and possible status as a Nexus reference design really seemed to excite people in a way that I haven't seen a leak do in awhile.
AP: What phone are you using? I already know the answer to this one, but I'm sure people are curious.
EB: This is just downright embarrassing. As you can probably surmise, no one really sends me review units anymore, so I'm still saddled with a self-purchased Samsung Galaxy Nexus whose multiple screen cracks break my heart a little bit more before each usage.
AP: Whose new products (even the ones we may not yet know about) have you the most excited this year - anything you can tease?
EB: Gonna have to go with the G2 -- again -- along with HTC's probable phablet, some big hardware from Nokia (EOS and phablet(s)), and hopefully even something really premium from BlackBerry. Sony Mobile is putting out exciting handsets these days too, as are a ton of formerly budget OEMs like Huawei, ZTE, and OPPO. Seems like everyone is bringing their A-game nowadays, which is great for phone enthusiasts.
AP: Coke or Pepsi?
EB: Coke, every time. I'd climb over the carcasses of 1000 jagged Pepsi cans, for a Coca Cola.
Now, we know this interview doesn't answer every question you want asked, so we're letting you in on a little democratic journalism: below in the comments, ask a question of evleaks. We'll pick the best questions, and we'll publish the ones Evan is willing to answer in a separate post.