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New emails expose anti-poaching collusion between Apple, Google

updated 11:04 am EDT, Mon March 24, 2014

Messages describe 'irate' calls from Steve Jobs

A newly-published set of emails explicitly detail the anti-poaching agreements reached between Apple, Google, and a collection of other high-tech firms. The companies settled a US Department of Justice investigation on the matter in 2010, but are still dealing with class action litigation. One of the instigators of the anti-poaching deals appears to have been former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who made "irate" calls to Google co-founder Sergey Brin in February 2005, complaining that Google was trying to hire away members of the Safari development team. Brin mentions "veiled threats" from Jobs; after a second call, he adds that "Basically, he [Jobs] said 'if you hire a single one of these people that means war'."

Continuing, Brin says that "In any case, lets [sic] not make any new offers or contact new people at Apple until we have had a chance to discuss." By February 26th the two companies had reached a pact, as evidenced by an Apple memo asking its recruiters not to hire people away from Google, and to keep an eye out in case Google tried any poaching of its own. "Please also be sure to honor our side of the deal," the message ends.

Throughout the rest of 2005 the collusion appears to have expanded to many other companies, including Microsoft, Oracle, Comcast, IBM, Intel, and others. A particularly damning email from Google co-founder Eric Schmidt admits that he doesn't want to "create a paper trail over which we can be sued later."

Anti-poaching agreements can be problematic, as they tend to keep salaries artificially low. They can also hinder people from switching jobs for reasons such as career advancement, relocation, or relationships.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    I defend Apple in its battle against the Obama-administration DOJ, but all the evidence seems against them in this one. Companies should win the loyalties of their employees by treating them well rather than by making anti-poaching deals. Keep in mind, too, that it might not be in an employee's interest to get hired away. They might get a job just for one particular expertise and be laid off soon thereafter, with their then-former employer not interested in hiring them back. I once knew a Boeing engineer who thought he was being clever accepting a job with Lockheed, figuring he'd come back to Boeing in a year or two with double hiring raised. Unfortunately, Lockheed laid him off and Boeing didn't want him back.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    This entire case raises interesting questions. It's too soon yet to judge if these companies actually did all they are being accused of, but OTOH the only way Steve would have found out about the Safari team attempted poaching is if one of the members of that team told him this was happening (and thus, undesired by said team member). One has to wonder if there are any guidelines about *unwanted* poaching attempts as well.

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