Forbidden Fruit: Thirty years of oppressive spiritual cultivation at Apple (Part III)
Inside the Church of Apple and the living word of Steve Jobs
This is part three of a five-part series. New? Read parts I & II:
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.
— Steve Jobs
Pale Blue: Connecting dots to deaths in #AppleToo
When I was a mobile developer at Gannett, I struggled a lot with being constantly faced with the news. In 2012, I was helping the USA Today desktop team with our rollout of the first major redesign, which made the homepage a storybook of sorts. Tragedy struck an elementary school in Connecticut and filled every page. The small children who were murdered in the Sandy Hook school shooting were all I saw every day for an entire week. My daughter was in kindergarten at the time.
I came in late and I left early. I sat in the bathroom and cried several times a day. It was too much to take. I realized then how important the work I was doing really was (never mind the advertising and paywalls). The world had gotten so big with the internet. Journalists were closing the distance between tragedy and consumer. They wanted to make us care: to prompt change.
Earlier that year, I had bumped into investigative journalist Brad Heath in the hallway of Gannett’s glass towers and we had a conversation about a series he was working on. The topic was one I care deeply about: innocent people locked up in prison and other judicial corruption. He mentioned he wished we had a chaptered mobile experience.
At that time, our mobile usage had eclipsed desktop and paper readership. Millions of people had missed out on the empty factories that fill our abandoned industrial age. We could not make that mistake with the inhumanity of incarceration. I had two weeks to do the impossible. I did it. A few weeks after that, ESPN tried to poach me for designing and creating a 3D vertically-rotating sports ticker with integrated ads. Gannett pulled up a seat for me at the table. Mitch Gelman, the VP of digital products at the time, wanted my ideas.
Following a record-breaking viewership of video games journalist Brett Molina’s coverage of the Playstation 4, Gelman wanted us to get into the gaming market. As a life-long gamer and a senior developer on the ‘New & Emerging Technologies” team, I was poised to spearhead such a project. We got our hands on an Oculus and dreamt up USA Today’s VR Stories. I wanted to bring people face to face with the destruction caused by tragic disasters like Hurricane Katrina; to elicit the empathy that traditional media was losing. Three years after I left, USA Today brought the world to the reality of the United States-Mexico border wall, just as we imagined. The project I worked on directly in 2014, “Harvest of Change” in the Des Moines Register, earned the company an Edward R. Murrow award and the inaugural National Press Foundation award for “Best Use in Technology in Journalism”.
Journalism is the antithesis of marketing. As I sit here, reading story after story of the brilliant investigative work covering the depth of Apple’s exploitative depravity in China, the Republic of Congo, Brazil, Myanmar, and here, in our own backyard, I fear journalists are no match for decades of the refinement of the advertisement and branding industry. The data is in front me, yet my heart is screaming at me: “This cannot be right. Run.” It’s a David and Goliath battle. Apple earned our trust with their classy, perfected electronics, fighting the Big Brother FBI on our behalf, and their empathy-simplicity-repetition marketing model.
As a result, when Apple tells us they will stop capitalizing on exploitation and abuse in third world countries, we believe them. Even when year after year, some new report comes out that Apple has failed to make much progress, or worse, laundered the exploitation through a complex web of additional suppliers. Steve Jobs got away with securities fraud by claiming negligence when he back-dated options, faked the iPhone before his team got it working, and hid his failing health from the public. Steve Jobs was a ‘walking antitrust violation’. It’s an apt title for a man who found a way to capitalize on every single industry from banking to agriculture. Apple’s robotics and and augmented reality sectors are likely to infect farm laboring in much the same way it has done in Apple’s factories: automation of industry harms blue collar workers.
His first daughter, Lisa, the one he tried to avoid providing for and then named a computer after, wrote in her memoir, Small Fry, that her father got away with everything because no one ever held him accountable. Only when a copy-cat came along in the form of a blonde Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, mimicking every aspect of his person right into his black turtlenecks did we see the light. Her story ended in criminal failure, while his actions came and went without consequences. A woman who idolized a man long since passed would see the inside of the prison in his stead, carrying the burden of blame for ‘setting women back’ and killing the #girlboss. His company, Apple, continues to go right on extracting unethical value from every inch of the earth without repercussions.
Steve Jobs and Apple are intertwined in a way that succeeds him in death. That’s exactly why the man seems immortal. Without a face, Apple feels like a ghost vessel, eerily voyaging through an Anno Domini world post-Jobs. It sure feels like the information I’m digging for is buried on an Island of Dead that cannot be found, except for those who know where it is. To cut through the noise of the media, Apple endeavors to create it, so it’s us who must bob for the bad Apples in an entire ocean.
Apple has been warned time and time again over the last three decades that its culture of secrecy was not sustainable and a liability to the company. We have some kind of brand amnesia when it comes to Apple’s wrongdoing — undoubtedly due to the sheer volume of news about them that floods the media on a daily basis. The news that a Chinese factory worker killed themselves because they lost a prototype barely registered with a surrounding barrage of business and product news. This is particularly troubling when it comes to the burying of human rights violations from Tim Cook’s globalization efforts.
Tim Cook is calm and quiet, but like Steve Jobs, he’s also a jerk. Not the verbally abusive kind. The kind that will crush a soda can on the conference table if one of the selected invitees does not show up on time. The kind of guy who gets dozens, maybe hundreds, of reports of inhumane labor practices in his factories and mines, including child labor and suicides, and allows it to continue for two decades. You’d have to be a jerk to care more about technological progress and profit than actual human lives.
Steve Jobs seethed at journalists, grumbling that Apple’s factories in China weren’t sweatshops. Tim Cook declines to respond to Chinese human rights questions. Two sides; one coin.
Apple rapidly accelerated their plans to move from China to India, not because of the decades of human rights violations, but out of financial motivation. In fact, Apple’s suppliers in India are the exact same companies found to be using child laborers and caused workers to commit suicide — Foxconn and Pegatron. Foxconn and Pegatron also operate in Vietnam and Indonesia, where forced labor and inhumane working conditions are also killing workers. Additionally, Foxconn is one of Apple’s Brazilian suppliers.
It took them three years to cut ties with a supplier using children as laborers mining for Cobalt in the Republic of Congo. Congolese artisanal miners range average age between twelve to seventeen, but children as young as four have been found working the mines. Curiously, I found that some of these articles were not only hard to find among Apple’s media noise machine, but were actually not indexed in google at all:
Of all the tech giants, Apple should be the one we trust the least. They are the company that cried ‘humanitarian’ a dozen or so too many times. And yet, in 2018, the Thomas Reuters Foundation presented Apple with The Stop Slavery Award for its efforts to ensure transparency in its supply chain.
Steve Jobs did change the world. Smart phones have fundamentally changed the way we live. Apple has shaped our reality. They have done what they promised: enriched our lives by giving us mobile access to everything imaginable with a single touch.
Apple fails to mention the tradeoff is human. Would we have made the same choices had we known? They knew the cost and decided for the rest of us. They have repeatedly dodged any accountability and grew into a monolithic behemoth worth trillions of exploited dollars. It starts here, ensconced in the United States, where disappearing unethical and illegal activity requires more than just control over the news. When you cause deaths out of sight, the covert operation is carried out by nature. Domestic issues require swift action or creative effort. Men who make misogynistic or sexualized comments about women? Instantly out. Years of child labor and deaths? Apple has the responsibility to do business there, in spite of the egregious human rights violations.
There’s nothing potentially brand-bucking the executives don’t know about. I should know. I was contacted by leadership, communications, or employee relations dozens of times between May and November of 2021. Less than 20 minutes after a Tweet of mine appeared in Bloomberg, in an article written by Mark Gurman, a little blue dot appeared in my inbox from my manager asking me to give him a call. It was almost 7pm. It was to discuss that my Tweet had appeared in Bloomberg. The most flagrant instance was when the accommodations team reached out to tell me a medical form several people received that week was archived and no longer in use. Once my manager called me extremely upset I hadn’t warned him about a small profile in Forbes. When Reed Albergotti profiled me in The Washington Post, their offer to push me out on compromising terms was held until the day after it was published, with many angry phone calls over PR questions from the piece.
Corporate surveillance and misleading rhetoric to control the narrative isn’t unique to Apple, but they are masters of it. When Meta tried to gaslight me about their facial recognition software, journalists were immediately in my inbox pointing out their public posts and refuting their observations. Apple is much more sophisticated than that.
Early in my career at Apple, tiny seeds about avoiding journalists were planted. As someone who worked in the industry with a passion for its purpose of bringing empathy over tragedy back to the digital age, this grip never really took a strong hold. Except in one case, with Bloomberg.
When Gurman reached out to me, I had already been conditioned to see Bloomberg as evil and he, with his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and massive readership exclusive to Apple, was the devil — social engineering his way in like a virus into a vulnerable workforce. I felt such a deep aversion to him, and other Bloomberg journalists, that they wound up being the only people I outright ignored. When they broke news involving Apple’s violations of human rights, I was irrationally and inexplicably enraged. Without realizing it, Apple had colonized me into their reality distortion field that Bloomberg was an enemy I needed to protect Apple from. What did they do? Stood by investigative reporting when Apple demanded a retraction and publicized their pressure via BuzzFeed. Yikes.
For months, I had tried to solve issues internally. My Twitter DM’s were full of employees who felt unheard with common issues. I didn’t know what to do with them, so I asked Apple to give them space to be heard by leadership. I was only met with dead-ends telling me I needed to grow my network and make people like me before I’d ever affect changes at the company.
Many folks with disabilities who were being forced out of the company following requesting accommodations and others, including someone with cerebral palsy, who were being pressured to find a way to do their work in the office and condescendingly questioned on a yearly basis if they still needed their accommodation. Cerebral palsy is incurable. In response to the remote work open letter, John Gruber wrote:
The “formal requests” at the end about employees with disabilities and the “environmental impact of returning to onsite [sic] in-person work” are such transparent pandering. (I have never once heard of Apple not doing whatever it takes not only to accommodate employees with any disability, but to make them feel welcome.)
— John Gruber
I volunteered to personally champion this aspect, as someone with a disability. I was supporting a lot of employees and I did as I was instructed and encouraged them to talk to Employee Relations and file accommodations requests. Not a single person that had the accommodation certified received it.
Someone in a wheelchair was subtly berated almost daily for three months for not coming into the office while a wheelchair ramp was installed. Another person who is also bipolar, like me, put in an ADA accommodations request to work from home part-time, only when in a manic episode, because the open floor plan in the call center made it difficult for them to be productive. Sedgwick certified the accommodation. Apple told them they could withdraw the request, find another job within the company that would accept the accommodation within 30 days, or be terminated. No other role was available, of course, so they withdrew their accommodation. They had a mental breakdown a few months later. A large portion of their department already works remotely via Apple At Home Advisors. Their role as a support advisor was essentially exactly the same. There was no reason not to give them the accommodation. Learning that Steve Jobs parked in handicapped spaces when he was perfectly abled is an unsurprising extension of the ableism that goes on within Apple.
I was angry with Gruber when I read his post a year and a half ago. I understand now. I thought how could he possibly know what it’s like to be disabled inside of Apple. Now the key words hit me, “I have never once heard of Apple not doing whatever it takes not only to accommodate employees with any disability, but to make them feel welcome.” The fortress of secrecy and decades of accessibility marketing worked like magic.
Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.
— Steve Jobs
A few months later, after I started a wage transparency survey, reported Apple to the NLRB, and founded #AppleToo, I started getting harassed and verbally abused by my colleagues. The profanity, misogyny, berating over my mental health, and suicide wishes were anonymous. The blatantly fictional narratives (see the numerical list above) and claims I was disloyal, untrustworthy, and violating company policy were not. In my work email and in Slack, people had no problem calling for my firing and venting their frustration. Someone informed me that leadership asked them directly to attack me on Twitter and say that I was lying. This person is extremely trustworthy and honest, and they still work at Apple. Other employees told me they were told not to engage with me at all. It reminded me of the Seventh-Day Adventist church I grew up in and the demonizing I received for failing to assimilate.
Anthropologists and journalists agree that Apple is a religion, backed up by the neuroscience that confirms Apple’s fans have a religious experience when they see imagery associated with the brand. Academics and cultural historians have labeled Apple a cult. Leander Kahney didn’t title his book The Cult of Mac for nothing. Some fans fight till they die, over what? Over iPhones!
Fans might worship Apple, but the true believers are the ones who work there. They’ve been convinced it is their duty and honor to police the culture of this timeless brand so they can continue doing their life’s work of changing the world. Nothing individual contributors do to enforce the culture — including the harassment — is not caused by the executives.
Apple’s fanaticism is not an accident. Religious motifs were purposefully built into the fiber of Apple and even in the face of federal charges, that culture is meticulously maintained. The core of Apple is full of employees who prioritize secrecy and loyalty over humanity. My betrayal was talking to the press and speaking ill of Apple at all.
On August 27th, I received an email from a colleague. It started with “this is in no way requested, inspired or coordinated by management”. I’m sure they believe that. It’s just not true. (emphasis is theirs)
This article crosses a major line for me… The final quote, in particular, suggests that you feel that it’s ok to talk with the media about how Apple works internally … and not just about actual, specific issues of employment conditions…I especially think that it reflects very poorly on our team because we are a part of Global Security … I worry that this reflects poorly on all of us, and will undermine trust in our team … That is a trust that I have worked very hard to build and maintain … and I feel like I’m seeing it torn apart day after day … I don’t feel comfortable sharing information with you that we have exposure to as part of our job. …what is and isn’t a violation or an appropriate thing to discuss is ultimately a judgment call, and my confidence in your judgment has been shattered. …this impacts our standing as a team and our ability to work together…consider what harm you may be doing.
The quote from the article that crossed his line?
“Slack and social media have been absolutely the biggest catalyst in giving workers the ability to organize,” Scarlett said. “…a [NDA] doesn’t mean you can’t say anything bad about the company. You can openly talk about discrimination.”
These weren’t the only messages I received like this from fellow employees, but it was the only one I got from someone I cared deeply about. Here’s the top three runner ups: (I cut out parts that were about another activist; the person in the second email reported me to business conduct and complained in Slack that I hadn’t yet been fired; emphasis is mine.)
Cher, you seem to be totally unaware of what people are frustrated about at Apple when it comes to your behavior… Apple takes confidentiality very seriously — and jumping straight to Twitter/the media with every issue you have isn’t part of Apple’s culture… Are there issues? Of course-just like every company filled with humans. But you seem to find special joy in highlighting every internal issue publicly… they are people too… You think say you’re standing up for the oppressed and those that don’t have the courage to say anything? …in all reality you’re the oppressor… You haven’t even worked at Apple long enough to try and deal with this in a reason-headed manner… Posting Radars on social media (even if it’s a horrible Radar, is still internal to Apple — and the tool isn’t something the outside world is supposed to be aware of). Imagine if you posted a screenshot of a tool used for the next iPhone-Neither is okay… There is a clear pattern in your behavior: 1) Start at a new company, 2) Promote how you’ve started at that new company on Twitter, 3) Find an issue within a couple weeks/months, 4) Go public with said issue, 5) Shout out that you’re “helping the oppressed with your platform” — and imply that you’re a martyr for using your platform for others, 6) Feel good from the few people that recognize you for your efforts, 7) Repeat 3–7 for a few months, 8) Start all over again at 1… Doing this while your boss is away. You had mentioned in a previous Tweet that you feel bad for your boss being on vacation and having to come back to this? Why would you feel bad if you didn’t do anything wrong? Remember, they are a human as well. Most people would die to have your role or work at Apple.
The irony that you work in security and don’t realize that soliciting employees to capture pay data (on a public forum like Twitter) is a violation of privacy and security.
l’ve worked for Apple over 20 years. And I gotta say, I really am hoping we let you go. Not because what your doing is or isn’t illegal. But because of the toxicity you bring to the culture. Steve Jobs would have kicked you of the door months ago.
Powerful entities within Apple have — for decades — created institutionalized knowledge around protecting all of what is within Apple at all costs. It warps employee perception and behavior. Employees learn it is their responsibility to enforce policies — written and unwritten. Literally, in the Business Conduct Policies: “Any failure to comply with Apple’s Business Conduct Policy — or failure to report a violation — may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.” Apple’s culture has developed to be self-policing and it is not happening in a vacuum. The unseen force of influence is still causing the actions indirectly.
The closing sentiment in the first message, “Most people would die to have your role or work at Apple,” right after pointing out that people whom are bothered and frustrated with me are people and deserve to be considered is exactly why I spoke up and continue to do that. People are suffering within this company and people are dying.
The comment about Radar, an issue tracking tool that is available for public access so external parties can file bug reports, is about a heinous radar from a team Ashley Gjøvik was on, in which they all filed Radars about ruining each other’s lives.
Investigation into this found no policy violations, of course, because Ashley was not the only one that was subjected to a “living hell” radar and participated with the others. However, at Apple, unless you work in retail or AppleCare, you are lucky if there’s more than one woman on your team. I was the only woman on my team. I spent a lot of time managing my feelings because of the total disconnect.
These environments are not psychologically safe for women. They often lean in, participating in their own harassment so they aren’t seen as a victim, a complainer, or problematic. Minoritized people are encouraged to give the benefit of the doubt and be team players, enabling a hostile working environment that always seems to investigate itself to find no wrongdoing.
Still, I couldn’t let all our work be for nothing. I wanted to be a part of something bigger — to change Apple. It wasn’t working from the inside, and now I had people I’d promised to positively impact — to deliver them the healthy change they were craving. There was no turning back. The only option I saw was using my platform (I had around 40,000 followers on Twitter at the time) to bring them all together. #AppleToo was born, exactly 10 years after Tim Cook became CEO, “Nothing has changed,” I wrote, “It’s time to Think Different.”
I filed the first of my unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB a week later. The following day, on September 2, 2021, they asked me what I wanted. I sent them the following email:
1. A company-wide statement clearly condemning harassment and abuse on the company’s behalf.
2. A company-wide statement clarifying employee rights including: — discussing pay & pay equity — protected concerted activity, including discussing the forming of unions — speaking to the press about workplace issues from the employee’s own perspective as an employee (not on behalf of the company)
4. Provide an avenue to hear collective employee concerns that arise from protected concerted activity, and ensure there is a feedback loop for groups of employees who wish to voice concerns regarding systemic issues.
They asked me to negotiate a separation instead, with their internal counsel. That ended with me reporting them to the SEC for lying in a proxy statement to shareholders.
On September 3, 2021, Apple tried to speak with me alone — these are the only circumstances they said they would speak to me. I declined to do so and their internal counsel said I was “unwilling to participate in the investigation” and that they would “move forward with the information they have”. I reiterated that I was willing to participate if my counsel was present. This is the same messaging Ashley got a few days later. She was fired. (Apple said she had ‘disclosed confidential product-related information in violation of Apple policies’ — which she denies.)
A few days earlier an article about Apple’s employee privacy policies and an internal application was published. Why would they be investigating me for that? A current and former employee spoke on the record. There was no indication an anonymous employee had contributed to the story. The only possible thing they could try to use to tie it to me — and fire me — was a tweet I’d made a couple of weeks before about iCloud@Apple. People were talking about it on Blind and Reddit. I would be within my rights to discuss it as a working condition. My tweet wasn’t in the article, either. There was no connection.
Because of that Tweet, I was iMessaged — which was co-mingled with work messages because my team had used iMessage when I started the year before — and provided detailed information about the very internal application that would later be the nexus of the employee privacy piece in The Verge. Gobbler (now Glimmer), was quite possibly named after and utilizing a tool called Gobbler that manages media storage and was built off of facial recognition software it bought from a Swedish company in 2010. Apple had integrated Gobbler with iCloud (via Logic) without the advance knowledge from the CEO, Chris Kantrowitz. Kantrowitz, also founder of a psychedelic research hedge fund, worked with Apple in the early 2000’s in his music production company Frank the Plumber through work with the artist Denzyl Feigelson, now an advisor to Apple Music. Gobbler’s name, interestingly, was a relic of Steve Jobs. Despite that Jobs hated video games, they were a big part of early Apple. It was a 1981 game for the Apple II, a rudimentary clone of PacMan programmed by Olaf Lubeck. It’s no wonder he tried to name the iMac MacMan. We can all thank Ken Segall, author of Insanely Simple and the creative director for the ad agency Apple worked with at the time, for snuffing out one of Steve Jobs’ worst obsessions and coming up with the ‘i’ of Apple.
Glimmer was a tool used by employees, with their consent, to build face detection for what would become FaceID. Ashley provided screenshots of other internal applications about Glimmer questioning an employee’s ability to give such consent in Apple’s environment of coercion. To my understanding it was a Business Conduct violation to provide some of the documents she did and I now bore the responsibility to report it to Business Conduct or face termination.
When the article came out, I removed my iCloud from my work device and deleted the aforementioned conversation. A week after Ashley was terminated mutual friends told me that Ashley planned to hand over all of her messages to management. They had already investigated me and found nothing, this would give them a reason to fire me. I panicked and filed a report. Apple made that post-termination report a part of their justification against Ashley’s retaliatory firing claims, despite that it serves no legal purpose.
On September 17, 2021, a highly-anticipated Global All-Hands was broadcast to the entire company. We wanted answers about pay equity, COVID-19 protocols, what they would do to help employees seek abortion care with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and what the company was going to do about #AppleToo stories showing a pattern of the company to ignore or retaliate against workers who have been subjected to harassment, discrimination, abuse, and in, some cases, assault by customers and other employees. They ignored #AppleToo concerns entirely. All of the legally-protected details of this meeting made it into the press. Colleagues collectively decided it was me who provided the press with the recordings. It wasn’t. I couldn’t even join the meeting for the first half of it because of an issue with the service. I did talk openly about the aforementioned working conditions.
After I was berated all weekend for “leaking” the details of the Global Town Hall meeting, I took an unpaid sick day the following Monday, September 20, 2021. I had been being harassed by my own coworkers for months. I was not doing well. Hell, I’ve still not decompressed from all of the toxic garbage I was faced with. On the morning of September 21, 2021, I had so much anxiety about returning to work I had a panic attack and recognized I could not function properly and requested medical leave.
An hour later, my attorney called me and told me that Apple executives said they were going to grant me the medical leave and he would send over the packet. This was alarming, given that I hadn’t told my attorney I was requesting medical leave.
For that information to get to him, my health status was disseminated to the executives, then to their internal counsel, and then to mine. It was violating and I immediately felt worse. Bullseye, direct-hit. HIPAA does not protect your health data in the workplace. Claims providers and HR are not medical providers.
At around 3pm, my attorney called me again. He informed me that Tim and the other executives said I was “giving them a lot of headaches” and asked if I would stop speaking about them externally and internally. It felt like getting medical leave was tied to this request, so I agreed. This is called temporal proximity.
Tim Cook is the most powerful person at Apple. Consider Newton’s Apple. What goes up, must come down. Culture is top-down.
September 21, 2021 @ 7pm PST (emphasis is mine)
It was great to connect with you at the global employee meeting on Friday. There was much to celebrate, from our remarkable new product line-up to our values driven work around climate change, racial equity, and privacy. It was a good opportunity to reflect on our many accomplishments and to have a discussion about what’s been on your mind.
I’m writing today because I’ve heard from so many of you who were incredibly frustrated to see the contents of the meeting leak to reporters. This comes after a product launch in which most of the details of our announcements were also leaked to the press.
I want you to know that I share your frustration. These opportunities to connect as a team are really important. But they only work if we can trust that the content will stay within Apple. I want to reassure you that we are doing everything in our power to identify those who leaked. As you know, we do not tolerate disclosures of confidential information, whether it’s product IP or the details of a confidential meeting. We know that the leakers constitute a small number of people. We also know that people who leak confidential information do not belong here.
As we look forward, I want to thank you for all you’ve done to make our products a reality and all you will do to get them into customers’ hands. Yesterday, we released iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and watchOS 8, and Friday marks the moment when we share some of our incredible new products with the world. There’s nothing better than that. We’ll continue to measure our contributions in the lives we change, the connections we foster, and the work we do to leave the world a better place.
Thank you, Tim
The person they were frustrated with was me. They conflated trade secrets with federally protected concerns. Tim’s email was a regurgitation of the same emails I’d received in the month prior. It doesn’t matter that their emails arrived before Tim’s did. Tim is the steward of the culture and he has made it clear he will protect it. Realistically, the conflations by the employees, including my teammate arguing I should consider the harm I’m doing, are baked into them by the obscuring of employee rights behind mountains of policies and a threatening culture that makes it very clear that leakers are terrible people who ruin lives. I think protecting trade secrets is valuable and important, but come on. You are selling gadgets.
The gaslighting wraps up the email. The juxtaposition between “measure our contributions in the lives we change” and “the work we do to leave the world a better place”, and the reality of the domestic and international labor issues that do direct, horrifyingly wicked harm to actual people is nauseating.
Tim does not clarify or affirm that our government charges or activism about workplace conditions are protected. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s dropping an Appleism — the man understands gravity — he knows what he drops from the top of the hierarchy will find its way through the organization.
While leakers of actual trade secrets are rightly persecuted, we should all take pause at the fervor and cruelty with which they do it. The tools are reminiscent of the military — the team tasked with guarding the company’s confidentiality is even referred to as Apple’s Gestapo — the secret police Hitler’s Nazi government used. They’ve been accused of impersonating the police to track down lost property. They coerced one of their most fickle foes into spying on his own leaking and jailbreak community. Their culture has caused dozens of suicides in corporate, Retail, and the supply chain — starting in the 1990’s in Cupertino.
Observers say the application of the militaristic “national security” structure is worse in a corporation because of at-will employment laws and a lack of checks and balances. There’s no constitution at Apple; it’s not a democracy.
Apple has also used these tools to hunt down employees who publicly dissent over protected information around workplace conditions. I should know, I was one of them. I worked in Apple’s Global security team as a software engineer for over a year and half diligently helping the company manage disclosure to secrets, tracking company property, and managing and tracking anything related to loss prevention — including working on a tool called Dragnet, as in the most famous and influential police procedural crime drama in history, used to catch actual criminals. The name wasn’t really surprising. The department is full of ex-government employees, namely ex-law enforcement, including NSA and the CIA. Believe me, they act like it.
I had access to almost everything in the company in my role. I could impersonate executives on most security tools. I never even considered misusing it — even when I was told by numerous colleagues inside of Global Security that frivolous investigations were opened about me. Even when some of those nonsense investigations moved forward.
Silence creates its own violence.
— Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation
I somewhat regret this commitment to following the rules, but as the sole provider for my 9th grader, I was in no position to be fired for cause. (People shouting that I’m married… my husband lived on the other side of the state at the time and just because my daughter’s dad won’t pay child support doesn’t put my husband automatically on the hook. He has his own children to provide for.) When I left, they ruined the job I had obtained at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance because their secrecy rules are so ludicrous and draconian that Apple reports everyone’s job title as an ‘associate’ with Equifax after they leave. The result is that they control whether or not the job title you report to future employers is verified accurately.
Perhaps the most insidious thing about Apple’s oppressive culture of unqualified confidentiality are the coordinated leaks, which may extend past products into this co-mingling of legitimate confidentiality concerns and federally-protected rights to speech of employees. Apple is so big, popular, and valuable now, what’s the point of keeping the Church of Apple’s doors open?
Decade after decade, the same issues come out, and their marketing makes us forget that we’ve been hearing the same things about Apple in eternal recurrence. Apple was even praised for its openness, while journalists were investigating the depravity of its secrecy. Remember that time Apple was hacked? No, you don’t. Scholars have theorized that part of the revolution against corporate exploitation and government persecution of crime is aided by complex transparency. The audience, rather than the secret keepers, have access to vast webs of public information revealing a company’s criminal behavior, but a gestalt relational theory provides a mask of perception to obscure responsibility of wrongdoing. Sociologist Georg Rilinger suggests that by fragmenting public information into ambiguity within complicated systems of concealment offers the ability to commit ethical or legal crimes without any accountability. The exploitation is hidden in plain sight. This makes it complicated for journalists to cover it and less exciting than the clear revelation of caches of secret documents, such as The Facebook Files revealed by whistleblower Frances Haugen.
We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.
— George Orwell, 1984
George Orwell warned us about a totalitarian state; Big Brother controlling us from the television. Apple’s stance was that IBM was Big Brother, and the feisty, blonde Macintosh in orange shorts and white tank top was swooping in to save everyone from pale blue tyranny. He’d later bemoan that Microsoft’s market control was a threat to innovation at the US economy.
Will ‘Big Blue’ dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?
— Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs warned us about Apple.
Steve Jobs was an autocratic leader and the first person he delegated responsibility to was Tim Cook to run operations in 1998. Cook let Jobs shine in the spotlight while he worked in the shadows, streamlining operations with globalization — tying Apple to China. While Cook may stay out of the sun and give his leadership team autonomy in a hub and spoke leadership style, it is still authoritarian, and they are constantly monitoring messaging about the brand.
Apple is this unique company, [this] unique culture that you can’t replicate. And I’m not going to witness or permit the slow undoing of it because I believe in it so deeply.
— Tim Cook
Many lament that Tim Cook “is no Steve Jobs”. Others are grateful he stays in the darkness so their tech guru can live on in the spotlight; the stoic, measured nice guy contrasted against the brilliant, emotionally reactive jerk. Charles R. Wolf said in 2009, “Apple is Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs is Apple.” Leander Kahney argues that Cook does not get the credit he deserves for saving the company. Isn’t that the point? Apple at its core is “people who shine a spotlight only to stand outside it.” Apple is not Steve Jobs.
Apple is an enigma; an exquisite puzzle box with magic hidden within its dark labyrinth. Steve Jobs is the shining facade; Tim Cook is the hidden engine. A mercurial kaleidoscope obscuring decades of global human rights violations.
Apple is Tim Cook and Steve Jobs. Under the hood are hundreds of thousands of people — many overworked, underpaid, underaged, and dying.
Steve Jobs knew everything that happened at Apple. So does Tim Cook. So do all of the executives. No company should be too big to fail. It’s not serendipity. It is by design. I don’t want to destroy Apple, the company. I want to save Apple, the soul. The soul of Apple is its people — employees and contractors; retail, corporate, and supply chain. It is possible to make beautiful devices and thrive as a business without destroying and killing workers.
Many people said that Apple hiring me was a mistake. I didn’t belong at there. Steve Jobs would have hated me, some say, he’d never have hired me. They even said I was crazy. Truth be told — I am exactly the kind of person he would have hired.
Steve Jobs would have known better than to ignore me, because he truly believed the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
Tomorrow, in part IV, we examine the Apple core
Each day this week, at 5am PST, the next part of this series will be published. The massive bibliography will be posted on Friday with Part V. Missed Part I? Read it here. Part II can be read here.
Jobs was a visionary; cutting through the bombardment of seemingly unrelated stimuli. He hand-selected emerging patterns to conjure technological magic. Or did he? The only thing that matters is what you remember.
— Thirty years of oppressive spiritual cultivation at Apple: Part IV
Join me in tomorrow in Part IV as we understand how Apple’s brand machine works and how it’s applied to every aspect of the company in such a way that we don’t know or forget Apple’s transgressions. Apple overtook Christianity’s title as the biggest brand by seeing what only the intersection of opportunity, skill, and knowledge can provide. The only way to be as popular as a religion is to become one. Not just any religion would do in the 1970's… to succeed he’d need to Think Different. Read it here.