Why Apple doesn’t prosecute factory workers who leak iPhone secrets

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iPhone 11 schematics
The person who leaked this purported iPhone 11 schematic almost certainly wasn’t arrested for industrial espionage.
Photo: Weibo

When the casing or another component for an unreleased iPhone leaks before the official unveiling, it’s often because someone at an assembly plant in China snuck it out. Apple always does its best to track down the culprit and the punishment is … generally not much.

And there’s a good reason why.

Which isn’t to say Apple doesn’t take these kinds of leaks seriously. It even formed the New Product Security Team (NPS), a group dedicated to stopping leaks, according to The Information.

When images of released iPhones or iPads appear on the web, the NPS folks go into action. And the team has supposedly been fairly good at tracking down the sources for past leaks. For example, when 180 stolen casings for the then-unreleased iPhone 5c wound up on the black market, Apple found out and bought all of them.

No police involved

After the NPS discovers which worker stole Apple’s property and revealed a closely held company secret to the world, authorities rarely arrest the culprit. Why? Taking such action would garner too much additional attention.

Calling in the police would confirm that the leaked information about an upcoming Apple device is absolutely true. Before that, it’s just another rumor.

Also, Apple would need to provide Chinese police detailed information on its unannounced product as evidence to be used against the thief. This would have to happen at a time that the company is trying to keep that device a secret.

So the person who absconded with the components simply gets charged the parts’ street value. Apple can’t even fire them if they work for one of the myriad third-party Asian parts suppliers. (Of course, Cupertino surely asks the employer to sack the offender.

Perhaps this is why we already know so much about the iPhone 11, even though it’s not supposed to launch until September.