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Details are emerging about Apple's aggressive corporate tactics thanks to a Gizmodo interview

In the wake of the suicide of a Chinese employee working at Apple's hardware partner Foxconn, Apple's practices have been scrutinized to a greater degree.  The suicide reportedly came after the employee was beaten for losing an iPhone prototype.

Now employees are coming forward and revealing a tale of how Apple has transformed from a hippie haven founded by a free-spirited hackers (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak) to a land of secret spies and invasive surprise searches.  For Apple's executive leadership, its unusual approach is merely a design to protect the trade secrets that make it arguably the hottest maker of mobile gadgets.  However, to most the company's tactics enter into the realm of paranoia and abuse.

According to Apple employees past and present, Apple maintains a so-called "Worldwide Loyalty Team".  Composed of moles spying at its headquarters, the team's members pose as normal employees only to snitch on those who are suspected to be leaking info.

Describes a former Apple, Inc. employee who goes by the name Tom in an interview with Gizmodo, "Apple has these moles working everywhere, especially in departments where leaks are suspected. Management is not aware of them.  Once they suspect a leak, the special forces—as we call them—will walk in the office at any hour, especially in the mornings. They will contact whoever was the most senior manager in the building, and ask them to coordinate the operation."

The "Loyalty Team" agents then proceed to search employees' belongings and confiscate their phones, while the management coordinates the search.  As employees are only allowed to have company-granted phones on site, its easy for the agents to analyze the employees' phone history for hints of leaking activity.

During the search employees are order to turn on their screen saver and stare at it.  They are not allowed to instant message, text message, call, or otherwise communicate with each other.  Describes Tom, "It is like a gag order, and if the employee does not want to participate, they are basically asked to leave and never come back."

When the agents find what they are looking for, they keep the suspect after work for more advanced interrogation.  Tom states, "I was at several events. When they find what they are looking for—which they usually do—the person is asked to stay until the end of the business day. Then he is asked to leave the premises quietly, escorted by security.  There is a lot that goes behind doors that I don't really know about. I do know, however, that they really interrogate people that are serious suspects, intimidating them by threatening to sue."

All the searches are "voluntary", though refusal to comply typically will lead to dismissal, according to Tom.  Reportedly the secret agents also engage in a diverse set of functions including seeding fake images to catch leakers and discredit the leak machine.  They also work to minimize the internal buzz surrounding significant announcements.

For Apple, the revelations of its secret police are beyond bizarre, but not entirely surprising for the company that exercised secrecy to a point of compulsion, once killing one of its largest leak fan-sites for refusing to reveal the source of its leaks.  They seem especially ironic, though, considering that Apple used a  now infamous 1984-themed commercial to introduce its Macintosh computer in 1984.



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Did Employees Sign NDAs Before Hire?
By ltcommanderdata on 12/16/2009 8:05:39 AM , Rating: 4
I think the most relevant first question is whether the employees had to sign some form of NDA as part of their contract for hire to not be leaking things? These clauses aren't exactly uncommon. If Apple Store employees are under some form of NDA, then investigating a suspected breach, and confirmation of said breach or refusal to co-operate with an investigation could be grounds for termination depending on what the contract said.

In Apple Store employees aren't under some form of NDA in their contract, then these investigations become more questionable.




RE: Did Employees Sign NDAs Before Hire?
By amanojaku on 12/16/2009 8:41:10 AM , Rating: 2
Of course Apple's employees signed an NDA. Most organizations have two things in the hiring contract:

1) An NDA, covering anything from IP to client lists to earnings
2) A right to fire at will, for no cause at all

In the past firings had to be justified. These days a company can fire you without any reason if you put your signature on a document that says so. The reason why you're fired affects how much unemployment you get: half for just cause (you were consistently late, work quality was poor, etc...) and full for no cause. At least, that's how NJ and NY do it.

The problems here are the tactics: they're sneaky and threatening. It's not uncommon for organizations do to "secret shoppers" to check on store quality, but that involves observing employees in their natural state. According to "Tom" the Apple Gestapo CREATES situations in which to catch "wrongdoers". That's basically entrapment.

I understand the need for security to ensure an employee's whereabouts during searches, but forcing an individual to "turn on their screen saver and stare at it" is extreme. Most places send you home until the investigation is complete, and inform you of your legal rights so that you can seek representation if necessary. Once the company has your equipment it's not necessary for them to keep you, and you certainly have no opportunity to critique the investigators' procedures.

This is America. The burden of proof is on the accuser first. Innocent until proven guilty, which I must then disprove, and don't treat me like a criminal until I've been sentenced in a court of law. If Apple truly believes someone is violating the law and wants to sue then it should have all the evidence it needs BEFORE engaging the wrongdoer. Which means Apple doesn't have good security monitoring policies and procedures internally.


By bigdawg1988 on 12/16/2009 6:06:05 PM , Rating: 2
Georgia is a right to work state (not sure about Cali or Washington) so you can be fired at any time for no reason (contract or not) as long as there are no equal opportunity violations.
Hmmm, I wonder if Apple is the only one that hires moles. Everywhere I've worked there's always been that guy who is know company-wide for not doing anything, yet management doesn't do a thing about it. And we thought it was the nekkid pictures....


By Solandri on 12/16/2009 6:13:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
In the past firings had to be justified. These days a company can fire you without any reason if you put your signature on a document that says so. The reason why you're fired affects how much unemployment you get: half for just cause (you were consistently late, work quality was poor, etc...) and full for no cause. At least, that's how NJ and NY do it.

Apple is HQed in California. California probably has some of the most worker-friendly labor policies in the country (I won't say laws because the laws as written seem pretty reasonable). I've let go employees who worked a week, then never came back to work. After 4 weeks we figured they'd quit and dropped them from our payroll so we could hire someone else to fill the hole in the schedule. When the persons filed for unemployment, we sent off copies of their time cards and explained our reasoning for assuming they quit. EDD (Califonria's unemployment office) declared we'd fired them and gave them full unemployment.

Of course, I assume Apple's legal team is much, much better than our legal team (basically one lawyer on retainer).


RE: Did Employees Sign NDAs Before Hire?
By clovell on 12/16/2009 11:14:53 AM , Rating: 5
Even then, these practices are still questionable from the perspective of company culture, employee retention, and overall work atmosphere.

Hard to be creative at work when you hear about these types of things in your company.


By Suntan on 12/16/2009 12:37:47 PM , Rating: 5
Agreed.

Although I have signed NDAs in the past that basically say the company reserves the right to do these things, the day I get someone coming into my office and telling me to stare at my screensaver while they search my things is the day I hand my boss a resignation letter telling the company to pound sand.

You want to hire professionals, treat them like they are. You want to hire sheep that cower down and meekly agree to give up basic human dignity, no thanks.

But then, I’ve never considered myself a Mac anyway.

-Suntan


By lewisc on 12/16/2009 4:17:17 PM , Rating: 2
While the practices appear a little extreme, thinking specifically of the 'moles' placed within the organisation, the tactics used to investigate suspected breeches of company policy just appear to be those of an internal audit department with a stupid name.

You have to remember, Apple as an organisation does deserve the right to protect their competitive advantage, of which clearly IP is a central component. Having a rigorous corporate governance structure is important to shareholders, integral to which would be a strong audit environment. This function just seems to be a part of that environment.

In my organisation, being part of an internal audit investigation is certainly unpleasant, but frankly the threat of IA is usually enough to dissuade most wrong-doers. At the end of it, by working for a company you are being paid to deliver stakeholder value. By leaking highly valuable information, you strike at the core of that relationship.


By aqwan135 on 12/20/2009 8:14:10 PM , Rating: 1
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