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Apple's Obsession With Secrecy Grows Stronger 305

Posted by kdawson
from the tell-no-one dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times has a story on the culture of secrecy at Apple (registration possibly required). Secrecy is not just the prevailing communications strategy; it is baked into the corporate culture that had its origin in the release of the first Macintosh. 'It really started around trying to keep the surprise aspect to product launches, which can have a lot of power,' says marketing veteran Regis McKenna who advised Apple in its early days. Today few companies are more secretive than Apple, or as punitive to those who dare violate the company's rules on keeping tight control over information. Employees have been fired for leaking news tidbits to outsiders, and the company has been known to spread disinformation about product plans to its own workers and sue bloggers who cover the company. Apple's decision to severely limit communication with the news media, shareholders, and the public is at odds with the approach taken by many other companies, and many experts agree that the secrecy that adds surprise and excitement to Apple product announcements is not serving the company well in corporate governance. Some say that recent reports that Steve Jobs may have had a liver transplant, still not confirmed by the company, now makes one of Apple's assertions from January — that Jobs was suffering only from a hormonal imbalance — seem like a deliberate untruth."
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Apple's Obsession With Secrecy Grows Stronger

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:42PM (#28445861) Journal

    But even by Apple's standards, its handling of news about the health of its chief executive and co-founder, Steven P. Jobs, who has battled pancreatic cancer and recently had a liver transplant while on a leave of absence, is unparalleled.

    Indeed, very little of the matter comprising Steve Jobs is still Steve Jobs. The man's like a rebuilt Delorian [delorean.com]. Am I the only person that shudders when he closes all of his speeches with "Remember, there's a little piece of all of you inside me"?

    I guess if I ran a cult I'd be asking for new organs from my younger zealots too.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Well, that's a strategy that has worked out pretty well for Cher, hasn't it?
    • by Sorthum (123064) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:59PM (#28446083) Homepage

      I (sorta) see where you're coming from; the problem is one of "just because he's a CEO doesn't mean he's not entitled to privacy about medical matters." It was announced that he was having "medical problems;" past that I don't really see as it's the world's business. If it was, we'd not have things such as HIPAA in place.

      • by Prien715 (251944) <agnosticpope@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @08:54PM (#28447861) Journal

        He has the right for privacy, but investors have the right to speculate -- that's what investors do.

        Steve Jobs being at Apple must have some measurable financing impact on the company or else he wouldn't get paid his bonuses.

        If Steve wants his privacy, that comes with a share price that's volatile on the basis of speculation. I don't think that's too high a price to pay personally, but he seems very irritable about that reality.

    • "Parts: the Clonus Horror" with Peter Graves. Classic.

  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:47PM (#28445943) Homepage

    One of the things Apple learned well by observing others was the Osborne Effect [wikipedia.org]. And its true: Would you buy a "new" iPhone if you were told a better one was 6 months away, and all the cool features it would have eventually?

    • by the_humeister (922869) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:56PM (#28446049)

      That's a somewhat interesting question. The fact is is that people know new things are coming out from Apple. Yet they buy the "old" stuff and then bitch and moan when the "new" stuff comes out!

      • Maybe they like to iBitch or iComplain or iWine?

        Some people cannot wait. They like apple stuff so much that even if they just got a new phone, laptop, or ipod, when the new one comes out they still have to get the new model one. often they sell they 'old' one on ebay or to a friend.

      • Naah, when I buy Apple it's on the rare occasion that a product they make is worth its purchase price to me. I am still quite happy with my old G3/G4 (forget which) 6GB iPod mini from four years ago.

    • by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:36PM (#28446569)

      I bought the G1 months after it came out. I bought it knowing that Samsung, HTC, and about 7 other companies have already announced that they are making new Android phones. At least 1 of them will be better than the one I have, and it'll probably be within 6 months. I signed a 2 year contract with my provider to get the phone as cheap as possible.

      So yes, even knowing that newer, better things were coming out, I did buy the current offerings.

      With computers, this is -always- the case. Every computer will be replaced by a better model the next year. Cars, too. And just about everything that has to do with technology.

      Yes, there are some people who will say 'oh, there's a better one coming' and wait 6 months for it... But most people won't wait more than a month.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rtechie (244489)

      Except that it isn't true. The "Osborne Effect" didn't even apply to the Osborne. If this WERE true the computer video card industry, with it's 6 month refresh cycles, would have collapsed years ago. In case you aren't familiar, in the video card industry you buy a $500 video card knowing, with absolute certainty, that a much cheaper and faster card will be available at the same price or lower in 6 months. Yet people still buy video cards.

      And the cellphone market is an even better example of this. Some "ear

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by StikyPad (445176)

        The vast majority of those who bought the iPhone 3GS ALREADY HAD an iPhone. [citation needed] [wikipedia.org]

    • The Osborne Effect may have been true during the late PPC era when Apple had a flat marketshare and grim upgrade prospects. But the average iPhone/MacBook customer doesn't follow the Apple rumormill and doesn't give a flip.

    • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @07:03PM (#28446881) Journal

      ...Would you buy a "new" iPhone if you were told a better one was 6 months away, and all the cool features it would have eventually?

      But there's more to it than the Osborne effect. Apple's innovations are often the sort that can be echoed by competitors, diluting the return on their initiative and investment if disclosed too early. In this respect they're no different from any other toy company. I remember it once being said that it was easier to enter the offices of the Pentagon than to acquire a visitors pass to Mattel, so the secrecy may be simply good business.

    • by mdwh2 (535323)

      Given how much hype there is over every future possible Apple product, it's not clear to me that Apple have mastered the Osborne Effect - far from it (although I suppose it could be argued that since there's so much hype over even mere rumour, people have no way of telling actual planned products from vapourware when it comes to Apple). Talking of which, the idea that Apple are a secret company seems rather odd, given the coverage they get. It's been what, three Apple stories just today? If Steve Jobs so mu

  • ...so? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:51PM (#28445985)
    They want to keep their company secrets, secret. Put a slanted evil spin on the title just a little more please...

    [sarcasm]
    SHOCK
    HORROR

    How DARE they keep secrets secret!!! I am entitled to know everything they do, when they do it, and if I don't like it, I am entitled to force them to change it because I am entitled!
    [/sarcasm]


    *rolls eyes*
  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:52PM (#28445989)

    In plain English, that's called a lie.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Stray7Xi (698337)

      In plain English, that's called a lie.

      Careful comrade, plusungoodwise nearful crimespeak, crimestop rapidwise.

    • by dimeglio (456244)

      They don't lie, they just express their own, corporate, nonobjective, exaggerated and skewed point of view and expect us to believe it. Apple didn't invent it but for fear of being sued by shareholders, they have to perpetuate it. Sad. Ok, time for me to tune-in to the shopping channel and get some facts.

  • I was with Apple through the late 90's. Yes, that was an era of leaks -- but more often than not, they came from up top, not from the folks down in the trenches.

    What was the difference? If I or a colleague said anything, it was a leak, and we'd be fried. But if someone on top said something, well, that was strategic.

    See the difference?

  • by bennomatic (691188) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:54PM (#28446027) Homepage
    It's quite possible that they knew of the likelihood of cancer at the time of the announcement, but that only the hormonal imbalance had been officially diagnosed. I mean, I think that Jobs has done a great job since his return to Apple, but there's more than one way to skin a cat, and it's possible that someone like Cook could take over and take the company even further into the stratosphere. I'm just saying, Jobs is only a man.

    Combine that with the fact that plenty of perfectly healthy CEOs have been raping and plundering their companies, destroying entire industries with practices ranging from questionable to outright fraudulent. Jobs' health is his own concern, and I wish him good health for its own sake, not the value of my share in Apple.
  • by icebike (68054) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:54PM (#28446031)

    It seems impossible to me to attribute All Things To Chairman Steve, and at the same time suggest that serious illness of the CEO, Chief Designer, Head Boffin, and the virtual Persona of Apple Inc is not a material event, and is something the company can glibly lie about. http://valleywag.gawker.com/5028508/steve-jobss-health-leads-top-apple-flack-to-contract-common-bug-with-the-truth [gawker.com]

    If true that Jobs had liver replacement, why is this not a violation of reporting requirements?

  • by FloydTheDroid (1296743) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:55PM (#28446039)
    Are people's obsession with conspiracy theories growing?

    The culture of secrecy is not an Apple exclusive. Any company that has an inventory which needs to be sold would be foolish to open it's future product line to the public's eyes.

    Any company which has a carefully crafted public image will not suffer just anyone to make public announcements about them. This goes double (well, a few billion times actually) for companies which are publicly traded.

    Anyone who is upset about a so called "deliberate untruth" regarding someone's health is a total jackass. This article is almost too stupid to respond to.

    • by lee1026 (876806)

      Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and so on and so forth publish road maps about future products all of the time. They can still sell their inventories.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ahankinson (1249646)
        Intel, AMD & NVIDIA's customers aren't the same as Apple's. Their big customers are the people making the computers, not the people buying them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I an go to Intel, Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, or IBM, and in return for signing a NDA, they will give a roadmap of what their product lines will be doing in the next 1-5 years. I then can go time equipment purchases around their model cycles.

        Apple? No way to get that info. I don't know if the $500,000 I'm spending on Mac hardware will be obsolete and unsupported in 24 hours.

        However, Apple knows this. To be honest, I am pretty sure they don't want into the enterprise. They are best served as being a toy mak

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Uberbah (647458)

          I an go to Intel, Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, or IBM, and in return for signing a NDA, they will give a roadmap of what their product lines will be doing in the next 1-5 years.

          And how well has Longhorn been running on Itanium for you? How about that RAMBUS memory?

          I don't know if the $500,000 I'm spending on Mac hardware will be obsolete and unsupported in 24 hours.

          Why are you spending $500,000 on 6+ year old hardware?

    • by timeOday (582209)

      Anyone who is upset about a so called "deliberate untruth" regarding someone's health is a total jackass.

      Huh? I would think the company's owners have every right to know who is actually running it.

    • . . .the article also claims that Apple's policy "is at odds with the approach taken by many other companies". So. . .uh. . .so how do you like those apples?

    • by Abreu (173023) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:50PM (#28446755)

      The point is that Apple decided to lie about Steve Jobs health to avoid a stock price crash.

      There is a good reason why stockholders and the SEC should be angry

  • Personal Life (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:57PM (#28446057) Journal
    There is no reason that every bit of Steve Jobs personal life needs to be on display for the world. Being a CEO of a prominent company does not mean that you need to show your medical records to everybody. All it means is that he needs to make sure there is a plan for the company to continue running if something does happen to him. I have to same responsibility to my company: make sure there is someone else who can take over my projects reasonably well if I happen to get hit by a bus. It doesn't matter if he has cancer, a liver transplant, or is 100% healthy, he still might die tomorrow if the bus comes with his name on it. The only right shareholders have is to know that the company will continue on if he dies. And all signs point to YES.
    • by rtechie (244489)

      When you're the CEO and public face of a major corporation your health is of great legitimate interest to shareholders, bondholders, and other interested parties as it can have a major affect on share price.

      And Steve Jobs isn't just any CEO. He is associated more strongly with Apple than perhaps any CEO is associated with any large company in America. Apple has a history of being adrift without Steve Jobs at the helm.

      It doesn't matter that Jobs doesn't run Apple day to day. In the stock market perception is

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by the_humeister (922869)

        He is associated more strongly with Apple than perhaps any CEO is associated with any large company in America.

        Not quite. Throughout history there have been CEOs who've been very strongly associated with their companies. Here's a short, non-exhaustive list (in no particular order):

        Bill Gates - Microsoft
        Warren Buffet - Berkshire Hathaway
        Jack Welch - General Electric
        Larry Ellison - Oracle
        Andy Grove - Intel
        Michael Bloomberg - Bloomberg
        Charles Schwabb - Charles Schwabb
        J.P. Morgan - J.P. Morgan and Co.
        John D. Rockefeller - Standard Oil

        • Not quite. Throughout history there have been CEOs who've been very strongly associated with their companies. Here's a short, non-exhaustive list (in no particular order):

          Bill Gates - Microsoft

          Warren Buffet - Berkshire Hathaway

          Jack Welch - General Electric

          Not to mention: Ken Olson (deceased) - Digital Equipment Corporation (also deceased).

          I have observed that organisations held together by a charismatic leader often include that leader's charisma as a structural principle all throughout the org chart. And when that charisma goes missing, the wires get very tangled.

          Leadership is important. You can't replace it with mere management.

      • Re:Personal Life (Score:5, Insightful)

        by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @07:58PM (#28447431) Journal

        It might not fold, but dramatic shrinkage (massive layoffs, etc.) is very likely.

        What are you talking about? What about Steve Jobs dying would cause massive layoffs and dramatic shrinkage? Because he is the one designing ipods? Because no one else in the company can continue the music and computer business? It's not like Steve makes all this stuff, he approves it, and decides the general direction. And now the direction is pretty clear in the Mac, Phone, and music industries that Apple should have enough to go on for a while, even without any new revolutionary devices. Please explain how exactly Steve Jobs death would ruin Apple, why they can't just keep going on the momentum they have.

    • Being a CEO of a publicly traded company DOES mean you need to reveal to shareholders any information you have that could impact the company's value (stock price).

      Apple, including Jobs himself, are VERY well aware of the impact Steve Jobs' health has upon the stock price. They've seen it happen before when he was sick, and when he was rumored to have died.

      Then again, Steve Jobs shouldn't be back-dating his stock options either.

      Apple shouldn't be hiding continued costs for product development and support by

  • by avandesande (143899) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:04PM (#28446165) Journal

    How about an article about the medias obsession over Apples obsession about secrecy?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by geekoid (135745)

      It's a secret.

    • by Draek (916851)

      How about an article about slashdotters' obsession over the media's obsession over Apple's obsession about secrecy? These things wouldn't get posted if people didn't read them, y'know.

      And yes, I'm aware I'm part of the problem as well, but its always fun to watch the Apple fanboys 'in their own turf', so to speak ;)

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:06PM (#28446197) Homepage
    There's a serious question if Apple obeyed the laws for not disclosing more about Jobs' health. There are strict rules about publicly traded companies having to disclose materially relevant information to share holders. Having your CEO, who is known for being extremely influential and essentially responsible for most of your major products, having a severe, life threatening illness and not disclosing it, might very well run afoul of those regulations.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Nonsense. The rights of shareholders of a corporation to be informed about materially relevant information about the enterprise do not in general override the privacy rights of its CEO, only in very specific instances (e.g., the CEO is forced to disclose his transactions on company stock, and other dealings with the corporations such as pay and benefits). The possibility that the CEO of a corporation you're investing in is secretly very sick and will die soon is, well, just a risk that you have to take.

      • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
        That would be true normally. But Jobs isn't a normal CEO. Steve Jobs is responsible for Apple's success. He's not replaceable like a normal CEO. Given how important Jobs has been to Apple's success, the argument can easily be made that his health is of much more direct concern than it would be normally.
  • I would argue that blizzard [blizzard.com] does this quite well [penny-arcade.com]. I don't think this has to do with Vivendi, Blizzard's mother company, either.
  • by al0ha (1262684)
    >> Some say that recent reports that Steve Jobs may have had a liver transplant, still not confirmed by the company, now makes one of Apple's assertions from January -- that Jobs was suffering only from a hormonal imbalance -- seem like a deliberate untruth."

    Hmmm, I would not classify that as a deliberate untruth since having a malfunctioning liver will indeed cause a hormonal imbalance. I would classify it as a good 'ol half-truth instead.
  • Apple's assertions from January â" that Jobs was suffering only from a hormonal imbalance â" seem like a deliberate untruth.

    Is that anything like a lie?

    If I was still an Apple shareholder I would be extremely pissed at the Apple CEO for keeping such an important bit of information secret. How much you want to bet that the very few people who knew the truth made some interesting trades in Apple stock during the period this deliberate lie was in effect.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      If so, it didn't get them anywhere. Apple's stock price fell a bit in response to the "hormonal imbalance" thing, but it's up quite a bit above that now and holding fairly steady. Particularly so when compared to the rest of the market.

      Personally (and as an Apple stockholder) I would have preferred they just said Steve was sick and taking some time off. I don't think owning stock in a company gives me the right to demand personal information about any of their employees.

  • PC: Hello, I'm a PC.

    Apple: Hi, I'm a Mac.

    PC: Hey, Mac, that's a very professional looking suit you have on there. Quite a change: is it an Armani, by any chance?

    Apple: Oh, no. I'm just here to deliver you these papers. See you in court.

    *Commercial ends with "Think Different (R)" on the screen.
  • I'd sooner have secrecy than having to listen to Balmer and co whinging about Google and talking about suing Linux vendors all the time.

    Apple is pretty good in the sense that they don't appear to criticise the competition (or if they do it doesn't make the news). They get on with what they do best.

  • If you look at Apple's stock price around the times health issues were declared, then you will see that it mirrors more the general tech market than knee jerk reactions to his health.

  • I recall, back in the mid-eighties, visiting an Apple development site (on business I won't go into here). I noticed that they had a bunch of trays lying around with encouragement for the people to deposit used papers in them for recycling. Lots of rah-rah-eco-responsibility slogans on them. My impression was that these were pervasive throughout the company.

    They were full of listings of the software under development.

    They were provided by an external service.

    OCR systems for stock printer fonts were just

  • I don't have any problem with their hiding specific product details. But some of it is just insulting. All mention of ZFS has disappeared. Are they not ready? Have the reconsidered their commitment to it? Why should we be put in the position of Kremlin-watchers in the days of the Soviet Union, having to read meaning into the most minor of wording?

    Enterprise customers expect a bit more communication, and as a consumer customer I'd appreciate it as well.

    Another big problem is serious product defects. When

  • by nausea_malvarma (1544887) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:44PM (#28446673)
    He died in a car accident in 2006. The Steve Jobs you see today is a look-alike hired by Apple. The whole illness story was fabricated to explain the subtle differences in appearance between the the look-alike and the real Jobs. What's left of Steve is being held at a cryogenics facility in silicon valley. It's all true. Don't believe me? Play the latest iphone commercial backwards. You can hear a voice say "Steve Jobs is Dead".
  • Steve Jobs may have had a liver transplant, still not confirmed by the company, now makes one of Apple's assertions from January -- that Jobs was suffering only from a hormonal imbalance -- seem like a deliberate untruth."

    "Deliberate untruth?" How about "bald-faced lie?" That's like trying to recast rape as "surprise sex."

    Apple deliberately lied and concealed the state of Steve's health because they wanted to prevent a public panic. The public would panic because Jobs' has been made the public face of the company, is Apple to the public's perception, and the wheels will fall off if he's out of the picture. Whether or not that would be the case, this is how the public feels. Given his rock star CEO status and given that the s

  • Isn't this like withholding info from shareholders?

    I would think that the health of Steve Jobs is quite important to the stock price of apple.

    • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @08:00PM (#28447447)

      I would think that the health of Steve Jobs is quite important to the stock price of apple.

      So fing what, are the greed of shareholders and the privileges they hold as shareholders more important than the rights to personal privacy held by Steve Jobs? Is that what this is about? Money money money money, tell me if your liver is shutting down because I need that information to make more money.

      Listen, there are privileges, and there are rights. They are not the same. A lot of things that people go around spouting as "rights" are in fact "privileges", not rights. You have the right to gather with other people in public. You have the privilege, if applicable, to drive a car on public streets. You have the right to say whatever you want to say as long as it doesn't infringe upon someone else's right. You have the privilege to drink alcohol when you turn 21. You have the right to have your privacy protected. As a shareholder, you have the privilege to know what's going on with the company you invested in.

      If you don't like what's going on in the company you invested in, the solution is pretty obvious. And it doesn't involve getting angry at the CEO because he didn't want to tell you about the biological processes going on in his body. It's his right not to have to do that.

      Your privilege does not outweigh his right, and I'm sorry if you don't like that, and I'm sorry if you lose money because of it.

      Christ.

  • From The Atlantic. Ruthlessly compressed.

    It has become conventional to think that a corporation, for better or worse, takes on the coloration of its CEO--Jack Welch turns GE into a tribe of aggressive, rigorously unsentimental alpha dogs; Jeff Skilling populates Enron with nihilists expert in gaming the system.


    But how strong is this power--or any executive power?


    James March goes so far as to say that in any well-run company that's conscientious about grooming its managers, candidates for the top job are so

  • "Some say that recent reports that Steve Jobs may have had a liver transplant, still not confirmed by the company, now makes one of Apple's assertions from January â" that Jobs was suffering only from a hormonal imbalance â" seem like a deliberate untruth."

    Really? You know IGF-1 is produced in the liver right? Lack of IGF-1 can affect weight. It's directly related to growth hormone. So, at worst, we're talking misdirection here, not deliberate untruth.

  • Every business entity has something their coulda/woulda/shoulda done differently. And, every stock holder wants complete transparency for all business dealings and information but their own.

    Apple feels it realizes a business advantage from playing its cards a bit closer to the vest than - say - Dell. The only difference, the only difference between the trade secrets Apple holds dear (starting from the very existence of an unreleased product, on down) to those for Dell (a US$0.02 price advantage on sata cables) is that Apple's are vastly more interesting to read about.

    Therefore, what Apple considers a trade secret is of great financial interest to writers and publishers who are accustomed to knowing every corporate detail except how the execs are manipulating the company stock this week, and which subordinates they're dicking.

    If the press, or more to the point the stockholders, don't think they're feeling enough love, they can sell the other owners on the Transparent Apple, Inc. concept at the next stockholders meeting, and vote a new board accordingly. Until I see signs of a nasty proxy fight over this, the whole thing is made up news, or in the word of the metatags, !news.

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