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From leaks on products to internal employee matters, there’s little doubt that Apple is having a big problem with information trickling outside its company walls, and Tim Cook has made it clear that he’s not going to put up with it.
In a memo that was, quite ironically, leaked to The Verge, the Apple CEO has set those who would betray the company directly in his sights, noting that Apple will “not tolerate disclosures of confidential information,” no matter what that information is.
Although Apple has been dealing with product leaks for years, it’s fair to say that not only are those leaks getting more frequent, but many details of private meetings within Apple Park are also finding their way out to the press, whether those concern top-secret projects like Apple’s AR headset or internal employee matters like remote work policies.
In fact, in the email, which was sent to employees last night, Cook was clearly upset that Apple was left with hardly anything to surprise and delight the public during its California streaming event last week.
I’m writing today because I’ve heard from so many of you were were incredibly frustrated to see the contents of the meeting leak to reporters. This comes after a product launch in which most of the details of our announcements were also leaked to the press.Tim Cook
According to Cook, many Apple employees told him that they were also “incredibly frustrated,” with these leaks, which is understandable.
Certainly, designers and engineers who work on some of the company’s most impressive products would prefer that they be properly shown off on stage by Apple in a big reveal, rather than leaking out piecemeal over the course of several months.
In the memo, Cook tells employees that he shares their frustration, and reassures them that the company doing everything in its power to identify the small group of renegades within the company.
As you know, we do not tolerate disclosures of confidential information, whether it’s product IP or the details of a confidential meeting. We know that the leakers constitute a small number of people. We also know that people who leak confidential information do not belong here.Tim Cook
Serious Consequences for Leakers
The penalties for these leakers will undoubtedly be quite severe, once Apple tracks them down, and will likely go beyond simple termination of their employment. Like most large businesses, Apple has its employees sign a confidentiality agreement, and it won’t hesitate to enforce these agreements in the courts.
For instance, earlier this year Apple filed a lawsuit against a former employee, Simon Lancaster, alleging that he “abused his position and trust within the company to systematically disseminate Apple’s sensitive trade secret information in an effort to obtain personal benefits.”
According to Apple’s lawsuit, Lancaster used his position to gain access to internal meetings and documents that he wasn’t even involved in for the express purpose of getting his hands on trade secrets that he could pass to an outside media correspondent. While the lawsuit doesn’t go into specifics, the timing strongly suggests that Lancaster was the source of the information about the all-hands meeting in the fall of 2019 that leaked details on Apple’s AR headset plans.
Apple’s ‘Family Problem’
Although Apple has been fighting leaks in its supply chain for years, it appears it’s recently been facing much more serious threats on the home front as well, with more information finding its way outside the cloistered walls of Apple Park.
It’s a problem that understandably feels much more personal for Cook and other Apple employees, since there’s a substantial difference between supply chain leaks that come from random of often desperate factory workers and those within Apple’s own “family.”
Needless to say, Cook and his security team are likely going to be much more aggressive in tracking down the leaks within Apple Park, especially since they also go well beyond product information into internal employee matters that some almost certainly feel should be “kept in the family.”
To be fair, some of these issues are complex. Certainly, it’s reasonable for someone to go on the record with allegations of employee misconduct if it’s truly not being properly handled by Apple’s own HR department. On the other hand, complaints about Apple’s remote work policies and COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies are a different matter entirely. These leaks seem to be coming from a very small group of employees attempting to “wag the dog” by putting pressure on Apple in the court of public opinion.
Similarly, Cook’s comments that he was “looking forward to moving forward” after the court ruling in the Epic Games case likely weren’t intended for the public’s ears either. Like last night’s memo, however, a recording of the meeting was leaked to The Verge mere hours after it was held.
In fact, last night’s email from Cook was clearly sent in response to this leak of the meeting itself, since he spoke about Apple employees being “incredibly frustrated to see the contents of the meeting leak to reporters,” and it’s obvious that he sees it as a violation of the trust that needs to exist between the company’s team members.
I want you to know that I share your frustration. These opportunities to connect as a team are really important. But they only work if we can trust that the content will stay within Apple.Tim Cook
While it’s rather brazen that the source of the leak within Apple had the audacity to also share Cook’s memo with The Verge, it also begs the question of whether every employee received the same email.
After all, there’s every reason to believe that Apple has planted information to track down leaks in the past, and it’s entirely possible this is at least partly why the iPhone and Apple Watch rumours were so far off the mark this year.
What’s Going on Here?
Apple has never been happy about internal leakers, but it’s fair to say that many of those are coming from its supply chain, which has a lot more room for potential holes.
It takes many separate organizations to put together an iPhone or Apple Watch, and once these products are near mass production, there are a lot of eyeballs on them as well. This is also why leaks tend to quickly ramp up in the weeks before an Apple event.
Apple has been going after leakers in its supply chain harder than usual this year, demanding sources and warning them about disclosing information about unreleased Apple products.
Even in this case, however, there’s information that can only come from within Apple’s own walls. Supply chain sources usually aren’t privy to the details of Apple events, for instance, so if the March 23 Apple Event Rumour was indeed false information planted by Apple, it was most likely intended to identify a source within the company itself, rather than its supply chain.
The same could also have been true of the rumours of a bronze-like orange finish for the iPhone 13 Pro, and possibly even the big redesign of the Apple Watch. Even if Apple had been working on both of these things at one point, it could have controlled how that information was disseminated to see where it actually pops up.
The iPhone 13 Pro colour would have been a particularly interesting piece of information to plant, had Apple wished to do so, since it’s a fairly low-risk move on Apple’s part. We never heard a peep about the true Sierra Blue colour, so it’s clear Apple can keep a secret, but for all we know the company passed around information about other possible colours, and orange is the only one that actually got out.
The situation with the Apple Watch Series 7 is slightly more complex, and we doubt that information was planted. Apple has a lot more to lose by floating an exciting new design and then disappointing many with the same old thing, and considering that Apple is pillorying leakers for “misleading customers”, it would be pretty hypocritical if the company were to deliberately do the same thing.
In fact, it turned out to be the biggest disappointment of last week’s event, and it’s very hard to believe Apple would set its customers up for such an anticlimax.
Leakers who put their money on the big redesign are naturally now trying to backpedal by saying that it was Apple who changed things up at the last minute, but there’s no reason to believe that’s the case. What’s far more likely is that Apple either abandoned the flat-edged design months ago — and leakers didn’t get wind of the change any more than they heard about the Sierra Blue iPhone — or that it’s actually next year’s design, and everybody simply jumped the gun in the hopes that it was coming this year.