Leaks, damning leaks, and spoilers


Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg, obtained and published a leaked memo from Apple concerning... leaks.

Last month, Apple caught and fired the employee responsible for leaking details from an internal, confidential meeting about Apple's software roadmap. Hundreds of software engineers were in attendance, and thousands more within the organization received details of its proceedings. One person betrayed their trust.

As John Gruber pointed out on Daring Fireball, most of the leaks detailed in the memo, ironically, appear to have been provided to... Mark Gurman.

Yeah, it's a brain boggler. But there's something less gobsmacking and more important that I think requires discussion — there are different kinds of leaks.

There are the kinds of leaks that concern future products. These are typically sought after by investors deciding where and when to move their money and consumers looking for when and if to make purchases. They''re spoilers.

Apple hates them because Apple treats products as surprises, akin to the plots of major books, TV shows, or movies. Apple invests considerable time and effort into both the atom and bits, and the reveal. It's not only a moment of intense internal pride and pageantry but of incredibly valuable marketing and storytelling.

Over the years, I've come not to care much for these kinds of leaks.

Apple almost always has a new version of a product coming out, or an obvious category it's inevitably going to expand into. The products Apple is working on, ultimately, are often predictable and typically much less interesting than how those products turn out once they ship.

My only real beef with these types of leaks, which I'll call spoilers, is that some people gorge on them and then, when the product is actually announced, declare it boring and lacking in surprise.

It's akin to someone leaking the script for the Game of Thrones finale or the last Star Wars sequel, reading it, then declaring the show boring and lacking in surprise.

Those people are, frankly assholes.

There's another kind of leak, though. The kind that reveals misconduct and malfeasance. We saw that kind of leak recently with the Cambridge Analytica story, and we've seen it in the past regarding all kinds of security, privacy, financial, and decency violations.

Those are the important leaks. The ones that bring abuses to light.

So, if Apple cracks down on spoilers, that's fine. Especially when money changes hands and the spoilers become crimes.

I realize it can lead to stock manipulation, help people make better-informed purchasing decisions, cost Apple millions if not more in revenue and morale, and let media outlets monetize rumors true and false, and the backs-and-forths in between.

But there will be another iPhone, new AirPods, and an iOS next either way. And, a year later, who really cares what was leaked the year before? Who even remembers?

It's when the leaks are about things that really matter — when they reveal the wrongdoing and the crimes— that's when we all need to know.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • "So, if Apple cracks down on spoilers, that's fine. " Yes, but not in the way that the alleged email details. The threats contained within not only amount to bullying, but threatening to restrict any employment in other companies in the surrounding area is quite illegal. You really should have called out Apple on their wording, Rene, rather than simply gloss over it with a blanket "leaks bad" narrative.
  • I just read the whole memo. Can you point out the wording that was problematic for you? I'm not sure where the "threats" were. If you're referring to the statements of what would happen and what could happen then I would argue those aren't threats.
  • The memo was ok, but this seemed a little heavy handed: "These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere." There are real reasons why leaks about products are damaging. A good explanation by Steven Sinofsky (former President of the Windows Division at Microsoft): https://twitter.com/stevesi/status/985261519016349696
  • You don't think that threatening and indeed having people arrested for a civil dispute isn't problematic? Or threatening "you'll never work in this town again!" for leaking product details to the very journalists who do most of Apple's marketing for them isn't an issue? Apple have been in deep doodoo for collaborating with other tech companies over wage fixing in recent years one would have thought they would have wanted to comply with corporate employment law, not break it over what is essentially a hissy fit over leaks.
  • Not a good sign if you feel the need to distort to make your argument. There are many things that are strictly between two private parties that nevertheless involve the police. Murder for one. Also theft. And so on. The actual quote about finding other work I already posted above, conveniently. This is to be read as a statement of fact of course, not as a threat. As for the journalists, there is enough to write about Apple and enough people wanting to read it, without chasing leaks..
  • The threat/statement about finding work is passive aggressive at best and is not something that a respectable company should be hanging over its employees.
  • Agreed. Definitely not threatening language - they were staying facts. Employees are bound by confidentiality agreementa and if they leak, they have breached it. That is grounds for termination of your employment. At the next job interview: "why did you leave your last position?" (Of course you anwer this honestly becusee the reference is coming to out you if you don't) "I leaked a confidential document". I'm certainly not hiring that person. The language wasn't a threat - it was pointing out the consequences of breaking the contract you signed, which go beyond just being fired. Of course, none of that is news to Apple's employees or to anyone that develops anything commercially for a living. If I had leaked details of anything Im working on, I would fully expect to get my *** handed to me - and rightly so.
  • The thing is, many of these leaks are used by other companies to rush that feature out first. That way the marketing teams get to say they “did it first” and Apple is lagging behind in features.