Jamal Khashoggi’s Apple Watch: Another blatant inaccuracy in media coverage

Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey in May 2018 wearing a third-generation Apple Watch. (Image: Al Sharq Forum/Twitter)

The mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi since October 2, after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, quickly took a dark turn following a series of weakly-sourced news reports that were never corroborated before publishing.

A list of these misreported inaccuracies and media retractions can be read here and here

While Saudi Arabia has adamantly stated that the kingdom is not involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, with no evidence to support rumors of his death, another falsity has become known in recent days.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, that investigators were looking to Khashoggi’s black Apple Watch that he was wearing as he entered the consulate.

The report stated that Apple Watch recordings “revealed recordings made on his Apple Watch purportedly indicating he was tortured and killed.”

Soon after, other mainstream media outlets carried the story with the headline “Saudi journalist recorded his own death on Apple Watch.”

However, tech commentators were quick to fact check and debunk the story.

The Reuters report stated:

“Two senior Turkish officials previously told Reuters that Khashoggi had been wearing a black Apple watch when he entered the consulate and that it was connected to a mobile phone he left outside.

“Sabah, which cited ‘reliable sources in a special intelligence department’ for its report, said Khashoggi was believed to have turned on the recording feature on the phone before entering the consulate.

“The paper said Saudi intelligence agents had realized after he died that the phone was recording and they used his fingerprint to unlock it, deleting some files, but not all of them. The recordings were subsequently found on his phone, it said.”

Sabah had also claimed that after the allegedly fatal encounter, “while Saudis were able to wipe certain files from Khashoggi's device or devices, they were less successful in deleting data from iCloud,” which apparently had already “transferred files” to his phone “which he had left with a woman outside the consulate.”

The inference from the reports were also that health data collected by the Apple Watch could provide answers into health data, such as his heart rate, location or other clues.

A Tech Crunch fact-checker report stated:

“But even if Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate wearing that model, a third-generation Apple Watch (which Khashoggi was pictured wearing) does not support cellular connections in Turkey, effectively ruling out any chance that his health data synced either with his iPhone outside or Apple’s servers.

“It’s also unlikely that the watch connected to a known Wi-Fi network inside the consulate, or that the watch was within close enough range to sync with his iPhone outside using Bluetooth.

“In any case, if health data from Khashoggi’s watch was transmitted over the air to Apple’s iCloud where it could be synced with his iPhone, the data is end-to-end encrypted with his passcode.

“Not even Apple — and therefore law enforcement — can access this data, meaning any evidence of his whereabouts will be on his iPhone.”

On Twitter, others also speculated about the fingerprint unlock feature that Daily Sabah mentioned, as unlocking an Apple Watch using fingerprint verification is not a feature of the device, an Apple representative told CNN.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 14:03 - GMT 11:03
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