updated 10:40 am EDT, Tue June 23, 2009
Apple's security culture
The level of secrecy in Apple's corporate culture is "super paranoid," say people with experience in the company. The issue has come into particular focus with news of a liver transplant performed on CEO Steve Jobs, which despite its relevance to workers and investors has been kept outside of public knowledge for two months. A senior official, typically said to be more open to talking with the media, has refused to disclose anything to the New York Times. "Just can't do it. Too sensitive," he says.
The company is also said to impose intense security barriers on workers handling secret projects, such as multiple badge-triggered security doors, followed by number pads for offices. One former worker observes that workspaces are often monitored by cameras, and that at an extreme level, testers can be forced to cover up products with black cloaks while working. The cloaks can be removed as necessary, but a red light must be turned on as a warning.
Many employees are known to be as surprised as the public at new product announcements, such as that for the original iPod. Managers in the company are meanwhile claimed to perpetuate misinformation campaigns, either by denying an interest in concepts secretly being worked on (such as the iPod shuffle) or spreading false facts. Worldwide marketing chief Philip Schiller, for instance, is claimed by another ex-worker to have held several internal meetings in which he deliberately lied about the pricing or features of a product. Such tactics let the company narrow down leaks, after which the responsible people are typically fired.
The motivation for the security, says former Apple marketing adviser Regis McKenna, stems from the era of the original Macintosh. Sony and Microsoft discovered the product before it had even launched, and Apple has since attempted to restrict information in a bid to maintain surprise. The policy also reflects Jobs' attitude, McKenna adds. "But what most people don't understand is that Steve has always been very personal about his life. He has always kept things close to the vest since I've known him, and only confided in relatively few people."
The company may be forced to become more open, at least in regards to Jobs, if an SEC probe turns against Apple's favor. American businesses are required to disclose information material to investors, and some have accused the company of deliberately concealing the gravity of Jobs' recent medical problems. An official explanation of them involving a "hormonal imbalance" could be contradicted by Jobs' need for a transplant.