In what's both a hilarious irony and a powerful display of contempt by employees of one of Silicon Valley's most secretive companies, Bloomberg published an internal Apple memo on Friday afternoon warning the company's employees not to leak inside information to reporters. If they do, they could face stiff penalties including being fired or even arrested for stealing trade secrets.
As the memo reveals, Apple is resorting to increasingly sophisticated techniques to catch leaks, including hiring outside digital forensics firms to examine employees' communications both inside and outside Apple's campus.
But perhaps the memo's most shocking revelation is the fact that Apple caught 29 employees leaking to the press last year - and of those, 12 were arrested. What's worse, the memo included an implicit threat that, once caught leaking by Apple, employees would find it "very difficult" to secure another job, potentially destroying their livelihood in the process.
The memo also cited examples of leakers who were busted by the company, including an employee who had leaked details of an internal meeting where Craig Federighi, one of Apple's most senior engineers, told employees that certain software features in iOS would be postponed.
Last year, an employee was fired for leaking details about the iPhone X, iPad Pro, and AirPods to 9to5Mac - a blogger who had distinguished himself by reporting a series of top-level scoops related to Apple products while he was still in high school.
As Bloomberg explains, the crackdown is part of a broader effort among elite Silicon Valley firms to keep information away from the press's prying eyes. Of course, the memo acknowledges how difficult this can be, considering the intense interest by investors, readers, publishers and reporters to dig up exclusives on one of the world's most influential - and most ubiquitous - companies. Back in 2012, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged to crack down on leakers, an initiative that clearly fizzled as key details about new Apple products have perennially leaked. And apparently many of these leaks weren't tacitly authorized by the company's communications department.
The problem, according to the memo, is that being approached by a reporter from the New York Times or Wall Street Journal can be an incredibly gratifying experience - especially for junior employees who are eager to satiate their egos.
But one employee quoted in the memo, Greg Joswiak, a senior marketing executive, cautioned that Apple workers should always be wary of the press - even of innocuous requests.
"It's important to remember that you're getting played," Joswiak warned.
Far from being a minor embarrassment, leaks can have a serious impact on the company. Not only can they tip Apple's hand to its competitors - informing their work on rival products - but they can also impact the sales of new products.
"We want the chance to tell our customers why the product is great, and not have that done poorly by someone else," says Greg Joswiak of Product Marketing.
The leakers aren't solely insiders. Some have been found elsewhere in the supply chain, according to the memo.
Given that Silicon Valley has become a bastion of anti-Trump sentiment, this crackdown on leakers bears the unmistakable whiff of hypocrisy: While executives have criticized President Trump for his fixation on silencing leakers, they've been quietly hunting down and destroying the leakers within their own organizations - often more efficiently than the White House ever has.
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Read the memo in full below:
Last month, Apple caught and fired the employee responsible for leaking details from an internal, confidential meeting about Apple’s software roadmap. Hundreds of software engineers were in attendance, and thousands more within the organization received details of its proceedings. One person betrayed their trust. The employee who leaked the meeting to a reporter later told Apple investigators that he did it because he thought he wouldn’t be discovered. But people who leak -- whether they’re Apple employees, contractors or suppliers -- do get caught and they’re getting caught faster than ever.
In many cases, leakers don’t set out to leak. Instead, people who work for Apple are often targeted by press, analysts and bloggers who befriend them on professional and social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and begin to pry for information. While it may seem flattering to be approached, it’s important to remember that you’re getting played. The success of these outsiders is measured by obtaining Apple’s secrets from you and making them public.
A scoop about an unreleased Apple product can generate massive traffic for a publication and financially benefit the blogger or reporter who broke it. But the Apple employee who leaks has everything to lose. The impact of a leak goes far beyond the people who work on a project. Leaking Apple’s work undermines everyone at Apple and the years they’ve invested in creating Apple products. “Thousands of people work tirelessly for months to deliver each major software release,” says UIKit lead Josh Shaffer, whose team’s work was part of the iOS 11 leak last fall. “Seeing it leak is devastating for all of us.” The impact of a leak goes beyond the people who work on a particular project — it’s felt throughout the company. Leaked information about a new product can negatively impact sales of the current model; give rival companies more time to begin on a competitive response; and lead to fewer sales of that new product when it arrives.
“We want the chance to tell our customers why the product is great, and not have that done poorly by someone else,” says Greg Joswiak of Product Marketing. Investments by Apple have had an enormous impact on the company’s ability to identify and catch leakers. Just before last September’s special event, an employee leaked a link to the gold master of iOS 11 to the press, again believing he wouldn’t be caught. The unreleased OS detailed soon-to-be-announced software and hardware including iPhone X. Within days, the leaker was identified through an internal investigation and fired. Global Security’s digital forensics also helped catch several employees who were feeding confidential details about new products including iPhone X, iPad Pro and AirPods to a blogger at 9to5Mac.
Leakers in the supply chain are getting caught, too. Global Security has worked hand-in-hand with suppliers to prevent theft of Apple’s intellectual property as well as to identify individuals who try to exceed their access. They’ve also partnered with suppliers to identify vulnerabilities — both physical and technological — and ensure their security levels meet or exceed Apple’s expectations. These programs have nearly eliminated the theft of prototypes and products from factories, caught leakers and prevented many others from leaking in the first place. Leakers do not simply lose their jobs at Apple. In some cases, they face jail time and massive fines for network intrusion and theft of trade secrets both classified as federal crimes. In 2017, Apple caught 29 leakers. 12 of those were arrested. Among those were Apple employees, contractors and some partners in Apple’s supply chain. These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere. “The potential criminal consequences of leaking are real,” says Tom Moyer of Global Security, “and that can become part of your personal and professional identity forever.”
While they carry serious consequences, leaks are completely avoidable. They are the result of a decision by someone who may not have considered the impact of their actions. “Everyone comes to Apple to do the best work of their lives — work that matters and contributes to what all 135,000 people in this company are doing together,” says Joswiak. “The best way to honor those contributions is by not leaking.”