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Apple's Obsession With Secrecy Grows Stronger 305

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 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 []. 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?

  • (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...


    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!

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

    In plain English, that's called a lie.

  • by smartr ( 1035324 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:53PM (#28446005)
    So we realize that instead of it being something mild, Steve Jobs very well may die. Does it really make sense to go after someone who is dying for not being completely honest about well, their mortality? I mean, I'm a shareholder of Apple, and I just don't find myself furious at someone who is dying from illness.
  • 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. []

    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.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:58PM (#28446073)

    Public relations people lie, constantly. They do it so much I don't think they even feel a twinge of remorse anymore. I mean, look at all the celebrities who are hospitalized for "exhaustion."

  • 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.

  • 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 al0ha ( 1262684 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:15PM (#28446309) Journal
    >> 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.
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:27PM (#28446461)

    "Oh, and that whole ease of use thing."

    Don't confuse the marketing tricks with the product. Miller Lite is beer (sort of). They're selling beer. They're suggesting you'll have a good time if you drink it, but they're selling beer.

    Apple is selling a computer system. Not a computer, a computer system. They're an integration company. You're perfectly correct, the hardware is not particularly special. Rather, it's the way it's put together and runs. Like pretty much any other company, they use commercials that promise you'll have a good time and be popular if you buy the product.

  • by ( 899244 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:27PM (#28446463)

    Job's health is absolutely his business and no one else's. Who cares if it's a publicly traded company. Did he agree he and his families lives would be an open book to shareholders by virtue of them investing a few dollars? NO.

    His professional actions are absolutely subject to scrutiny, after all a public company does not work for it's customers, it works for it's shareholders. This is established, especially in the US. But read that carefully, his PROFESSIONAL actions. It ends there.

    If shareholders view his absence as harming stock they are welcome to replace him, temporarily or permanently. That is their sole recourse. He has done his duty in saying "I cannot preform my function and thus take a leave of absence." but in the end he wasn't even required to tell them it was for medical reasons.

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:30PM (#28446501)

    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.

  • 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.

  • by ahankinson ( 1249646 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:43PM (#28446655)
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:43PM (#28446665)

    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 maker, with the rigors of addressing business needs secondary.

  • by rtechie ( 244489 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @06:47PM (#28446725)

    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 "early adopters" (including the key teenage girl demographic) buy new cellphones 6 every months, no matter what. The vast majority of those who bought the iPhone 3GS ALREADY HAD an iPhone.

  • Yes, their leaks were planned and approved, which makes them strategic. You did not have that right.

  • 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

  • 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 Boomerang Fish ( 205215 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @07:11PM (#28446993) Homepage

    Where I might slightly disagree with you is that the Apple, Inc. image is very closely tied to the public illusion that IS Steve Jobs... people don't wait with baited breath for the next press release from Apple... they wait for the next PR demonstration from Steve himself. And yes, to an extent, Steve (though not his family) did agree to be an open book when he allowed himself to become such a big part of Apple's advertising and promotions.

    Because of this, I think the shareholders might be due more than "medical problems"... certainly his specific medical records aren't for the public consumption, and obviously don't violate HIPPA (we have enough precedents breaking things like that), but the shareholders probably do have a right in this case to more than just "medical problems". Maybe something to the effect of "on-going treatment with an expected return to his post in 6 months, and full health within the year" kind of thing.

    A cold is medical problems... so is cancer. A share holder of a company that uses it's CEO as one of it's primary selling points does have a right to know if that PR asset is about to kack.

    I drank what?

  • by bretticus ( 898739 ) <bretticusmaximus ... m ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @07:25PM (#28447133)
    I'm not disagreeing with you, but I'm not sure HIPAA would apply in this case. It only covers "protected entities" from disclosing medical information -- usually insurance companies, hospitals, etc.
  • 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.

  • 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.


  • by Wovel ( 964431 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @08:53PM (#28447847) Homepage

    He did have a hormonal imabalnce, they said he had very serious health issues and would return to work in June. All of that is true. The press thinks it has a right to know everything about everyone. Apple provided all of the information any investor would need to make an informed decision.

  • by Prien715 ( 251944 ) <> 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.

  • 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.

  • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @11:25PM (#28448671)

    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 igaborf ( 69869 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @06:51AM (#28450737)

    Remember when RAM was like $75 a gig? d:

    I must be old - I remember when it was $25/meg.

    I can remember paying like $200 for a 16 kilobyte static RAM board for my Altair 680b. How old does that make me? And where did I leave my walker?

  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @12:55PM (#28454529)

    I'm a regular citizen, just watching the market like everyone else. You shouldn't have to be a lawyer to do that. The major difference between me and a lot of other people in this discussion is that I'm not going around claiming that shareholders have all these rights that they don't actually have.

    I agree that Steve Jobs is a major public part of Apple's success, and I can understand that some investors might not be happy that he's not talking about his health problems. But the thing is, he has every right not to talk about that. The shareholders have no right to demand that information from him, regardless of anything having to do with money. His rights as a person supersede anything having to do with people making a buck. A lot of people here don't understand that. People are claiming that shareholders have certain rights that they were never given.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal