December 19, 2007: Apple settles a lawsuit with reporter Nick Ciarelli, resulting in the shuttering of Think Secret, his masssively popular Apple rumors website. Writing under the screen name Nick de Plume, the Harvard University student had broken a number of Apple stories on the site, which he launched in the late 1990s.
The terms of Ciarelli’s settlement with Apple remain secret. In a statement, he says he will “be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits.”
Apple drops the hammer on Think Secret
Anyone who followed Apple news in the early 2000s probably read Think Secret. Although Ciarelli never revealed the source of his scoops, someone deeply entrenched at Apple (at least at one time) fed him a steady stream of accurate (or mostly accurate) reports about upcoming products.
These included unofficial screenshots of Mac OS X Leopard before Apple released the operating system. The straw that apparently broke the camel’s back, however, was a series of reports about an upcoming Macintosh and word processing software.
Think Secret reported these rumors in 2004. They were shown to be true when Steve Jobs debuted the Mac mini and iWork productivity suite at the January 2005 Macworld event in San Francisco.
Apple: The evil empire?
When Apple sued Think Secret for revealing trade secrets, opinion among Apple followers diverged wildly. Some saw the lawsuit as a violation of Apple’s generally friendly approach to cultivating fans. In short, as Apple climbed back to the top of the tech world, the company used its resources to crack down on a small-time journalist. (Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak became the biggest name to ask Apple to call off the attack dogs.)
On a larger level, some viewed the lawsuit as proof that Apple opposed freedom of the press. These people worried that clamping down on the rumor mill would result in a sanitized world of Apple news. In this view, the only inside knowledge would come, either directly or indirectly, through Apple-sanctioned channels.
Others sided with Apple, arguing that the First Amendment does not protect the publication of trade secrets. For those of this mindset, it made sense for Apple to go after employees who shared proprietary information with outsiders.
Apple’s war on rumors and Think Secret
Stopping such leaks of confidential information appears to have been Apple’s biggest goal in its war against bloggers at the time. The company took similar legal action against AppleInsider and O’Grady’s PowerPage.
Steve Jobs brought secrecy back to Cupertino when he returned to Apple in 1997. This triggered a big culture shock inside the company. During the early 1990s, Apple had been one of the more leak-heavy companies in Silicon Valley.
Apple leaks continue to this day, and you can imagine it making people pretty crazy in Cupertino. In recent years, Apple intensified its attempts to shut down the rumor mill. In 2021, CEO Tim Cook even issued a company-wide memo that said, “People who leak confidential information do not belong here.” (That email promptly leaked to the media, of course.)
Think Secret publisher Ciarelli never shared details on the fallout from his legal battle with Apple. However, he claimed to be an Apple fan before and after the suit finished. According to LinkedIn, he currently works for BookBub, a company he co-founded in 2012. BookBub alerts readers to limited-time free and discounted e-books matching their interests.
What was your introduction to the world of Apple rumors? Leave your comments below.