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Rumors, Apple and leaks
Good or bad?

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

There seems to be a lot of fervor (again) over some of Apple's latest moves against some rumors sites. Some people are pissed off because Apple strong armed (used their lawyers) against some websites for displaying snapshots of future machines. This isn't the first time this has happened, nor the last. And it doesn't just apply to sketches and pictures, but sometimes technical documents and so on.

I understand both sides of the issues -- and get a little tired of only one side (or the other) being heard.

Rumors do some good

We all like them, we all read them. It is fun to guess and speculate on what is coming next, and keep up on the latest and the greatest. They keep the hype mills running, and keep people interested. This is free PR and shows that the industry cares.

Computers aren't the only areas where this stuff exists -- just look at some car magazines some day, or business magazines which are full of speculation on strategies and moves by other companies, or read a Hollywood tabloid and we have speculation on stars personal lives, movie and business ventures and so on. Or just walk by any water-cooler in any company and listen to the speculation and gossip about who is doing what with whom, what the latest political squabble was, or why the company is doing something.

So we can accept that this stuff will always exist, and to some point there is good -- and back-channel (unauthorized) communications can be used for good. Especially in markets where they keep people interested in products. But that isn't the full story. What I get tired of is that people don't admit that some of these rumors hurt (even when they don't mean to) and are bad.

Rumors do some bad

Of course gossip can be wrong. And just because something is believed doesn't mean it is correct. I've heard totally incorrect things be passed around as common knowledge -- and people buying into it. Some are making decisions (bad ones) because of what they THINK they know something. Which reminds me of the five degrees of ignorance:

1) You know the answer -- so you are not ignorant
2) You don't know the answer, but at least you know the right question
3) You don't know that you don't know the answer
4) You don't know how to find out how much you don't know
5) You don't even know about the five orders of ignorance

So wrong knowledge (errors) are bad and hurtful -- especially if people take them too seriously and believe them too much. This plumets people down towards the lowest levels of ignorance to begin with.

But even correct rumors can be bad -- certain it can be bad for business. For example; everyone thought a certain portable was going to be released on a certain date -- and so the sales of the older portables were reduced because of it. That hurts a company (and their ability to forecast) -- and it doesn't do much good for the customers either. And there are dozens of examples like that.

What if you held a press release and no one came? Apple used to have that problem -- so much had leaked that when Apple would do some press releases the press would show up (barely), but everything was already known. There was nothing newsworthy, and the release would get little (if any) attention. This is a major bad thing.

We like hype. We need hype. Certainly a company needs hype. Having highly accurate rumors kills hype. Or it helps with some short term (too early to be useful kind of hype) -- but when the item is released there is less hype because of it (they've already blown their wad, so to speak). Hype is a precious resource that needs to be used when you have something to sell -- not months before when it can only slow sales, or frustrate people because they can't buy that thing NOW! The world has an buying attention span of a 2 year old -- and in computers it is worse than most other industries. So of course Apple gets pissed when someone steals their thunder and their hype!

Legal Beagles

Now people are annoyed because Apple sicked their legal beagles on a website for publicly releasing private intellectual company property (like drawings of a not-yet-released machine). Let me explain what this is called -- Espionage. For an individual it is called "invasion of privacy" or at least unlicensed use of intellectual property. Why should Apple get upset over that?

Apple OWNS those drawings and documents -- they are not in the public domain (yet). So of course Apple is going to get pissed off and go after people that use their intellectual property, and they are going to try to stop it. They would be idiots not to. They are in the business of surprising the market to release new and interesting products and get people's attention by doing so -- and those leaks are counter to that goal.

Even when those documents are finally released into the public domain, you can't just plagiarize their drawings and documents (without permission). There are such things as copyrights.

If an individual had recreated the artwork from their understanding of the shapes, and done their own interpretations, then they might have a legal leg to stand on -- but publishing someone else's work on your site, and getting paid for it (through advertising and attention), is certainly theft of someone else's work.

I've heard people complain about Apple's draconian policy of firing people that leak information. Well they should fire the ass of the employee that gets caught leaking critical information! What kind of employee are you if you are doing things that harm the company? Certainly not the kind I would want to employ. Would you keep a housekeeper around if they snapped pictures of you on the toilet, or stole copies of your diary and gave them to the local newspaper? They wouldn't last long in my house!


Some complain that Apple uses misinformation to confuse the websites and the public. Sure -- and Apple also was behind the conspiracy to shoot J.F.K. Remember what is going on here. You've got a huge company, in a rapidly changing industry. It takes time for information to percolate out (often weeks or months)-- and most of that information has an expiration date that could be measured in hours or days. By the time much of the information gets out, it is already old -- and many things are retargeted very quickly. I've been NDA'd on things, and seen them change 2 or 3 times before release. Often there are duplicate versions of something, in a sort of "shoot out" to see which variant will win -- so I've also seen people NDA'd on the wrong variant (losing variant) and then be perplexed as well. Even when I'm supposedly "in the know" things aren't solid -- and I'm usually not in the know, and then they get really vague.

Then there is the fact that Apple is a big company with lots of people and lots of agendas. Who is leaking and why? I've seen many engineers who intentionally leak wrong information just to yank the chain of the world. This isn't corporate policy. Or more often these people know that others are reporting somethingthat is incorrect, and they just don't correct it (or encourage the misperception). People often run with their own perceptions, and are thinking of fourth order results based on erroneous perceptions. Remember a while back that whole thing about the "Mammals" website being registered to Apple? People got very excited about what it could have meant. What I didn't see published is that it just COULD have been someone's private test-server, or that someone who an Apple Employee just registered some domain they wanted to reserve for their own use. (Not everything every employee does is in alignment with Apple's long term goals).

So we have to lighten up a bit. Apple could make a short term conspiracy to misinform. We could argue about whether it would be wise to do so or not (or how long it would last). But I think that for the most part, Apple has better things to do -- and they don't have to misinform, since things change fast enough that people will miss the goals anyway.They certainly don't tell everyone everything they are thinking (until late in the game). So there is plenty of misinformation in gossip (without Apple) by the very nature of the game of telephone.


I am just flabbergasted that some people are actually pissed off that Apple is doing things like protecting their intellectual property rights, or doing their best to preserve their hype and marketing advantages! They are a business -- and wouldn't be a good one if they didn't do these things. As a stockholder I'd be bailing out on the company if they weren't doing their best to keep their advantage to themselves, and were unable to keep a secret.

So we need to keep some perspective. Rumors are fun. We all want to be "in the know". We are all eager for this information. I hit the rumor sites and enjoy them. I've met the guys who run those sites, and they are nice reasonable people just doing something that interests them. Good for them. I certainly don't vilify them or what they do.

But we need to remember that the rumor sites are just fun. We as readers need to keep our skepticism as well. They are sometimes right, sometimes wrong. Sometimes they miss by an inch -- sometimes by a mile. I like that they are not dead-on all the time -- that keeps up the suspense and the hype. It is good for business that they miss. So lets be happy that Apple of late is much better at keeping a secret than it was in the past. Think of all these rumors as foreplay -- they are just supposed to intensify interest, not satiate all desire. Things shouldn't end because of some premature leak -- they should, and increase curiosity, desire, and there should always be the uncertainty of where things are going to end up. So let the games go on -- but have patience and let each side play their little roles without letting anger or emotion taking over for your reason.

Created: 10/02/99
Updated: 11/09/02

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