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Apple Shuts Down ThinkSecret, But At What Cost To Us?

ThinkSecret is no more, thanks to a settlement with Apple Inc. over misappropriation of trade secrets that dogged the Apple rumor site for the past two years.

Apple took the unusual step of going after the "little web site that could" after it started posting lots of insider knowledge about upcoming Apple products, including proprietary information surrounding the Mac Mini and the new iLife suite of software products before they were released.

I say unusual because ThinkSecretwas essentially created in the best spirit of the Apple legacy: take on big business, enjoy a strong vibe of independence, of "us-against-the-world," of going after the establishment. And like it or not, with the sales Apple's enjoyed and the growth it has experienced, and the power it wields and enjoys, Apple is big business. Plain and simple.

ThinkSecret has always been a burr under the Apple saddle. Steve Jobs had to be chafed to no end every time secret Apple info leaked to the web. Where did it come from? Obviously engineers at the company were feeding the site some info, and that was clearly a violation of the company's internal laws, and may have broken real laws out here in the real world.

But rather than go after the engineers who may have been dropping this info at ThinkSecret's keyboard, the company decided to shoot the messenger instead. And that's unfortunate.

This all started back in late 2004 when ThinkSecret posted secret details of the Mac Mini and upcoming software from Apple that was ultimately unveiled at the following Macworld trade show in San Francisco in January 2005. Apple sued.

On a post on the site today, ThinkSecret's 21-year-old founder Nick Ciarelli, says he's pleased that the suit with Apple has been settled, that no sources were compromised, that the settlement was "amicable," and with the site shutting down he can now pursue his college degree and professional journalism career.

Here's Apple's statment: "Apple and ThinkSecret have settled their lawsuit, reaching an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides. As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and ThinkSecret will no longer be published. We're pleased to have reached this amicable settlement and happy to have this behind us."

I get Apple's take on all this. You can't have people running around spilling secrets. And at a place where secrecy is the life-blood of its culture, these leaks probably hurt Apple deeper than you might expect.

But as Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray told me this morning, "This is a free country and so it's a little bit comical that they would go to that measure to shut down a site that ultimately promotes its products."

It's a really good point. The fact is, ThinkSecret is a phenomenon in the online world with 11,000 active members, 26,000 discussion thread and hundreds of members on the boards at any one time, according to some reports. Apple silences a voice. Journalism takes one on the chin. And Ciarelli gets to move on with his life.

Can't wait for ThinkSecret part II. I talk to enough people inside Apple to know there's still a lot of them who still want to talk. ThinkSecret might be gone. But there are still plenty of us out here looking to tell the company's story.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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