Inside Apple’s Top Secret Sunnyvale, California ‘Black Site’

Apple Black Site Bloomberg Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
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There is an Apple satellite office in Sunnyvale, California so secretive that its working conditions are allegedly suffering because of it.

A new Bloomberg report gives us a rare glimpse behind the scenes at the covert facility, which is located about six miles from Apple Park. The contractors who staff the facility mostly work on Apple Maps, according to more than a dozen former contract workers.

That may not sound so secretive, but the satellite facility is so clandestine that some of the people who have worked there described it as a “black site” — a term you’re more likely to find in a spy novel than a story about Silicon Valley.

The building itself is bland and unremarkable. Bloomberg notes that there “appears to be a reception area,” but it isn’t staffed. That’s because all employees use the back door to enter the office. Workers also claim that they’re required to walk several blocks away from the facility before calling a Lyft or Uber home.

Former workers of the facility also say that the working conditions are tenuous. Vending machines are understocked, and the wait times for the bathrooms are often long.

Not that employees expect to spend much time there. According to Bloomberg, most contractors leave after their 12 to 15 month assignments are up — but “it’s not uncommon for workers not to make it that long.”

Within the walls of the black site, contractors employed by Apex Systems allegedly work under the constant threat of being fired.

“There was a culture of fear among the contractors which I got infected by and probably spread,” said a former staffer, who spoke to Bloomberg anonymously because of a nondisclosure agreement.

To be clear, Apple doesn’t manage the contractors who work at the black site. Apex Systems does. For its part, Apple says it requires all contracting firms to treat workers with “dignity and respect.”

In the wake of a query from Bloomberg, Apple said it conducted a surprise audit of the Sunnyvale office and found a work environment “consistent with other Apple locations.”

The Sunnyvale office is just one piece of a sprawling network of locations staffed by contract firms. Reportedly, the network of facilities just working on Apple Maps and navigation technology stretches across the Bay Area; Austin, Texas, London, England; the Czech Republic; and India.

In fact, Apex Systems isn’t even the only company that staffs the Sunnyvale facility. As far as how many people work there, Bloomberg’s sources say that the population has exceeded 250, but that number changes and Apple has refused to give an exact count.

Apple is notorious for its secrecy culture. Even at its main headquarters, the Cupertino tech giant ensures that its employees keep a tight lid on the technology they’re developing. But the Bloomberg story suggests that there are extremes to that culture — and that the people working in it could suffer as a result.

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