Saturday 21 April 2018

Apple launches new crackdown on staff leaks

Dozen staff arrested after tech giant's secrets revealed ... says leaked internal blog

'Apple outlined situations in which information was leaked to the media, including a meeting earlier this year where Apple's software engineering head Craig Federighi told employees that some planned iPhone software features would be delayed.' Stock photo: Reuters
'Apple outlined situations in which information was leaked to the media, including a meeting earlier this year where Apple's software engineering head Craig Federighi told employees that some planned iPhone software features would be delayed.' Stock photo: Reuters

Mark Gurman

Apple has warned employees to stop leaking internal information on future plans and raised the spectre of potential legal action and criminal charges, one of the most-aggressive moves by the world's largest technology company to control information about its activities.

The company said in a lengthy memo posted to its internal blog that it "caught 29 leakers", last year and noted that 12 were arrested. "These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere," Apple added. The company declined to comment on Friday.

Apple outlined situations in which information was leaked to the media, including a meeting earlier this year where Apple's software engineering head Craig Federighi told employees that some planned iPhone software features would be delayed.

Apple also cited a yet-to-be-released software package that revealed details about the unreleased iPhone X and new Apple Watch.

Leaked information about a new product can negatively impact sales of current models, give rivals more time to begin on a competitive response, and lead to fewer sales when the new product launches, according to the memo. "We want the chance to tell our customers why the product is great, and not have that done poorly by someone else," Greg Joswiak, an Apple product marketing executive, said in the memo.

The crackdown is part of broader and long-running attempts by Silicon Valley technology companies to track and limit what information their employees share publicly. Firms like Google and Facebook are pretty open with staff about their plans, but keep close tabs on their outside communications and sometimes fire people when they find leaks.

Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg last week talked about her disappointment with leakers. In 2016, Google fired an employee after the person shared internal posts criticising an executive. The employee filed a lawsuit claiming their speech was protected under California law.

In messages to staff, tech companies sometimes conflate conversations employees are allowed to have, such as complaining about working conditions, with sharing trade secrets, said Chris Baker, an attorney with Baker Curtis and Schwartz, PC, who represents the fired Googler. "The overall broad definition of confidential information makes it so employees don't say anything, even about issues they're allowed to talk about," he said. "That's problematic."

Apple is notoriously secretive about its product development. In 2012, chief executive Tim Cook pledged to double down on keeping the company's work under wraps. Despite that, the media has continued to report news on the firm to satisfy demand for information on a company that's become a crucial part of investment portfolios, many of which support public retirement funds for teachers and other essential workers.

In 2017, Apple held a confidential meeting with employees in another bid to stop leaks. Since then, publications, including Bloomberg News, published details about the iPhone X and other products.

Bloomberg

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