Why did an ex-Apple exec accused of betrayal say he was snooped on?

Apple Logo inside WWDC
Apple Logo inside WWDC (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

Axios has, as usual, a very matter-of-fact summation of this story.

The Register uses the word "iGiant" far more than anyone or anything should ever use the word "iGiant". But, for some reason, also posted Apple's filing in a redacted form. Not by Apple. Not by the courts. But it appears to be by The Register itself. Without anything by way of any explanation, at least that I can find. Which is flabbergasting.

It's Bloomberg report, though, titled "Ex-Apple Executive Accused of Betrayal Says He Was Snooped On", that raises so many questions about the story.

Gerard Williams III left Apple in February before starting Nuvia Inc. that same month with several other former Apple developers. Williams was the "chief architect" for all of Apple's chips for its mobile devices. His new company is developing processors for use in data centers. In November, Nuvia exited stealth mode and announced funding worth $53 million.

People leave (and come back to) Apple all the time. I'm not aware of Apple suing any of them before. Not Chris Lattner, who created Swift then high-tailed it to Tesla. Not Jony Ive who just left to spread his own design love. Not Bertrand Serlet who handed off software engineering then went into stealth mode for UpThere... for a while. Not any of dozens of other executives who went to other companies or started their own companies. None of the. So, why is Apple suing Williams?

Apple sued Williams for breach of contract in August, saying he was barred in an intellectual property agreement from planning or engaging in any business activities that are "competitive with or directly related to Apple's business or products."

Williams drove the A-series chipsets. He was privy to everything Apple was working on for the next many years. He knows exactly whether Apple is making ARM chips for Macs, for servers, or for a new series of talking bear toys.

Apple said in its complaint in state court in San Jose that criticism of the company in text messages by Williams signaled he was encouraging Apple co-workers to depart the company and join Nuvia. Apple also said that Williams "planned and developed" Nuvia while still employed at Apple and used his knowledge during his tenure of almost a decade at the iPhone maker to develop technologies that would later be used at Nuvia.

If he has a genius idea for more chips, his job at Apple means that idea belongs to Apple. So, could he think up, say, the A15 processor as a side hustle, leave, and then try to sell it back to Apple just because he believes that's a way to get more for it than his existing salary? Could he do that with a currently in development but not in market server chip? Legally? Ethically?

In response, Williams accused Apple of a "stunning and disquieting invasion of privacy" over its monitoring of his texts. In one message, Williams said Apple would have "no choice but to purchase" his new company.Apple has used privacy to heavily promote its gadgets and services in recent years, while criticizing other technology companies, including Google and Facebook, for using too much personal data.

What does privacy mean in this context? Did someone Williams was trying to poach go show the texts to management? Was he dumb enough to text his master plan over an enterprise-owned device on an Apple number, subject to data retention policies, completely, legally owned and managed by Apple?

Or is Williams he smart enough to get his own burner device, install Signal, and use that, and is now actually accusing Apple of somehow hacking into his personal property and accounts?

Those all have very different expectations of privacy attached. Which is why none of this makes a lick of sense to me. Not yet. Probably because most of the early coverage reads very much like Williams' people shopped the story around and very few dug into it very deeply before rushing to hit the publish button.

Apple may well be in the wrong here or Williams may really have done Apple dirty.

I don't know. All I know is that I'm reading a ton of speculation without foundation and logical fallacies that seek to scare people about privacy rather than inform them about a lawsuit.

The court date is set for January 21. Until then, I hope some intrepid reported does what intrepid reporters are supposed to do — follow the money.

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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.