Apple’s Ridiculous Cult Of Secrecy Needs To Stop

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why product secrecy exists - but when Apple’s culture of internal extreme security leads to a talented engineer losing his job, for leaks of a product that has already been announced, then something needs to change.

The engineer in question was the father of a Youtuber named Brooke Amelia Peterson. She got to have a go on a pre-release iPhone X at Caffé Macs, Apple’s high-end cafeteria on their Cupertino, California campus. Naturally, as a content creator, she turned on her camera and showed off her time with it - giving us a look at the design, Animoji and the notification tray.

Throughout the entire video (which has been taken down) the iPhone X makes a roughly one-minute appearance, which is roughly six minutes less than the average 7-minute hands on clips you got from tech sites on the announcement day. But once she posted it on YouTube, the video went viral across various apple rumour-centric news sites.

And for violation of Apple’s strict policy about recording video on campus (especially in Caffé Macs as found out by 9 to 5 Mac), this engineer was swiftly let go from the company. This resulted in a follow-up video from a tearful Brooke, who was shocked at the sympathy-less reaction from the corporation towards this talented engineer. No employee tribunal or review, simply a quick and (what was supposed to be a) quick removal from the business.

Now, I’m not here to fight corporate law. It can seem cruel, but if this rule was specifically written into his contract, then that’s the risk he runs in allowing his daughter to film and upload to YouTube. But I am going argue the necessity of this ridiculous cult of secrecy.

Quite frankly, he should not have lost his job for a product that the public already know about. There are definitely varying degrees of product leaks, and this is comparatively tiny to the initial iPhone X leaks through the iOS11 beta software.

We have already seen hours of video about the new iPhone… Why punish one engineer for a five-minute video of features we’ve already watched hundreds of times? It seems a bit extreme!

If you listen to Apple’s reasoning, via Jenny Hubbert who works on Apple’s Global Security team (a team who have hired former U.S. Intelligence and Department of Justice staffers), it’s to “surprise and delight” customers with water tight, unleaked products. 

So, for the sake of context, let’s take a look at what Apple’s internal security looks like - what do they do to ensure customers remain surprised and delighted at a product launch?

Take a look at the company’s leaked internal security presentation about stopping leakers (oh, the irony) and NYT’s article from a few years back, then you can see some of the ridiculous hoops employees jump through to limited avail of actually protecting the product secrecy.

  • The company tells its employees not to disclose any information to spouses, and to use an “built-in relationship monitor” for determining who is okay to share any classified details with.
  • Apple workers are required to cover their most sensitive products with a black cloth while working on them, and turn on a red warning light when uncovering a product to warn others of the product being exposed.

These two weird rules, alongside a whole slew of strange secrecy implementations, show a company at war with its own staff for leaks, wandering a fine tightrope between careful corporate politics and an Orwellian-style region of surveillance.

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But here’s the kicker, none of this is currently working. The Apple ship continues to be a leaky one, with software and hardware announcements confirmed up to weeks before an event. Since the iPhone was left in a bar way back in 2010, the product leaks have been consistent and thoroughly unsurprising/undelightful.

And Tim Cook says these leaks impact the bottom line, blaming slowing sales on “earlier and much more frequent reports about future iPhones.” While it may be simple to draw these conclusions from graphical trends, it’s time for a bit of a reality check. 

The reason why iPhone sales have slowed is because the design and execution of each iPhone is becoming rather lazy. This current iPhone design has existed since the iPhone 6 back in 2014. 

So where am I going with this? Well, if any quick decision should be made, it better be the one to reinstate the engineer you needlessly fired and a review of internal security policy. While the repercussions are acceptable in some circumstances, it’s extreme in most.

UPDATE: Just days after the video was posted, many tech press outlets are posting their own early reviews. Fair to say that makes Apple’s move to fire the engineer a rather extreme decision.

I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.