In the News, Reviews

Apple, a Fortress of Secrecy?

Apple Headquarters

Apple recently took a bruising in the blogosphere over its policy of requiring all iPhone developers to agree to a strict NDA (non-disclosure agreement).  Developers were forbidden from talking about their development of iPhone applications and even from saying publicly that their application had been rejected from the iPhone App Store.

Now, we developers (I’m a Lead Web Developer at Glassdoor) , are fairly gregarious. We love to brag, show off our code, critique other developers’ code, and generally show our mad skillz.  Apple’s iPhone NDA effectively shut iPhone developers off from their community, and they weren’t happy.  So Apple developers blogged –  They blogged a lot.  One developer even created the web site #@*% (the real URL doesn’t use grawlixes — not the kind of homage you want from your developers).

The culture of secrecy at Apple is highly apparent when you read the 250 Apple Reviews contributed by Apple Employees on Glassdoor.  Apple employees are 15 times more likely to use the word “secrecy” or “secret” when describing their company compared to employees at other companies. 15.9% of the Apple Reviews use these words compared to just 1% at other companies.  Here are some examples:

Secrecy hurts the company – employees are given limited information about important company news and events. Concierge in New York, NY

The secrecy is beyond fastidious and is in fact insultingly petty and political, and often is an impediment to actually getting one’s work done. Senior Software Engineer in Cupertino, CA

While secrecy is beneficial during development, and helps make a big splash on introduction of a product – the paranoia still runs deep after the product has shipped. The default answer to any question is “say nothing publicly”, and this philosophy is driven out of fear, even for purely technical discussions. Lead Software Engineer in Cupertino, CA

There is this overall ‘secrecy’ feel that is weird – and I think it permeates many many aspects of the company from engineering to marketing to sales – so you are often wondering if you are supposed to know something and not talk about it, etc. and it makes for a sometimes uncomfortable environment. Sales Associate in Cupertino, CA

Secrecy is one thing; colleagues and departments who are afraid to communicate are quite another, and the atmosphere at Apple fosters the latter. It hurts the company. Consulting Services Engineer in Cupertino, CA

In all fairness, I’m an Apple fanatic.  I love Apple design, I love the natural feel of Apple’s user interface, and I cringe when I have to use Windows.  I was so unhappy about the way Apple was treating its developers that last week I sent an email to Steve Jobs.  I told him that this wasn’t the kind of behavior I expected from Apple, and I hoped he would fix it.  An hour later, he wrote back, telling me that this was being blown up by the bloggers. I responded:

Me:  “I appreciate the response, but please, PLEASE stay the same company we love and trust.”

Within a minute Steve Jobs replied:

Steve Jobs:  “Of course we will.  This whole thing has been really blown out of proportion by a few small developers.”

A few days later, Apple finally lifted the NDA, making the announcement in a terse note on their developer site. The formatting was identical to the open letters that Steve Jobs sends on occasion, like his famous “Thoughts on Music”, and it’s a sure bet that Steve had a direct hand in the composition of the note.  The note dryly ends by thanking everyone for their “constructive feedback on this matter.”  And in the blogosphere, there was much rejoicing.

Perhaps Apple is starting to realize that it has become too zealous in its protection of its innovations.  I hope that they’ll take their employee’s comments seriously, and also treat developers more like partners than potential leaks.  I know I’ll be watching the company reviews and Apple Salary reports on to see how things are going, and I’ll be rooting for Apple.