Apple’s under unprecedented pressure as it prepares iPhone 13 launch


Apple’s dealing with waves of worker activism over sexual harassment and different poisonous office points.

James Martin/CNET

Cher Scarlett is a senior-level software program engineer who initially discovered programming by studying the code in web sites she preferred. Scarlett was employed to work for Apple a couple of yr and a half in the past, however she’s been doing much more than coding the previous few months. She’s tried to prepare an inside worker compensation survey, publicized employee complaints and helped draft an open letter to CEO Tim Cook criticizing working circumstances. Now she and a rising group of persons are on the heart of considered one of Apple’s greatest reckonings about the way it treats its personal staff and whether or not it lives as much as the beliefs of variety, inclusion and tolerance that Prepare dinner and his executives espouse.

Scarlett is a part of a burgeoning motion known as #AppleToo, created to vary Apple’s tradition. Lots of them consider Apple’s revered and often-emulated method to excessive secrecy has a draw back. Apple created world-changing units together with the iPod and iPhone by siloing teams and educating them to by no means reveal their work — even to their colleagues. However critics say the 45-year-old firm, co-founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976, additionally created an surroundings the place folks appear terrified to blow the whistle on dangerous habits, together with sexual harassment, pay discrimination and different hostile work circumstances.

“Cultures that closely reward loyalty create this good storm the place you are sort of anticipated to ‘hold it within the household,'” Scarlett mentioned in an interview this month. She and different present and former Apple staff have turned to social media to share frustrations in regards to the firm’s tradition. On Medium, Scarlett has published some of her co-workers’ stories of sexual harassment, assault and racism that gave the impression to be ignored by administration. “We now have some very dangerous actors taking benefit to prey on susceptible folks. We’d like change. We’d like it now,” one anonymous employee wrote in a post Scarlett published.

Staff aren’t the one ones taking Apple to activity. Lawmakers, regulators, rivals and activists across the globe are bearing down on Prepare dinner and the corporate from a mess of angles, together with new legal guidelines, investigations, antitrust trials and letter-writing campaigns. In each case, they’re pushing Apple to vary basic enterprise practices. This stress, approaching a number of fronts and from in and out, underscores that even Apple, with its horde of loyal followers, is not resistant to the backlash dealing with the tech trade. It is simply considered one of many giants, together with Amazon, Google and Facebook, beneath siege as extra folks begin to question simply how a lot energy and affect they maintain over our lives. 

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Inventive Methods, mentioned the scrutiny has come partly due to how deeply tech is woven into fashionable life and the revelations that some corporations have abused that energy. “It is the time we’re in,” she mentioned. “We’re extra conscious.”


Google has seen a whole bunch of staff take their protests public.

James Martin/CNET

Whereas Fb, Google and Amazon have had their very own share of struggles over time, together with worker protests and authorities investigations into their enterprise practices, it is uncommon to see Apple dealing with a lot public scrutiny without delay.

Till lately, Apple appeared above the fray. However even an organization with large energy, and an iconic mantra like “Assume Totally different,” can solely escape from a lot.

Now the $2.4 trillion firm is beneath the microscope like by no means earlier than. And it is taking place throughout a once-in-a-century pandemic and financial disaster. And simply as Apple’s about to begin promoting the iPhone 13, its most important product release of the year.

Apple declined to debate particular person worker issues, citing privateness of anybody concerned. “We’re and have all the time been deeply dedicated to creating and sustaining a constructive and inclusive office,” an Apple spokesman mentioned in an announcement. “We take all considerations critically and we totally examine each time a priority is raised.”

Stunning unrest


Apple staff have pushed again on the corporate’s return-to-office plans.

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

The roots of the worker activism Apple’s now dealing with seem to hint back to the instant messaging service Slack. As The Verge, CNN and The New York Instances have reported, the corporate-focused app Salesforce purchased final yr for almost $28 billion broke communication partitions between varied groups at Apple. Quickly staff have been drawing responses from across the company as they mentioned points in group chats for folks in a sure locale or designed to speak about distant work.

A former senior engineering program supervisor, Ashley Gjovik, mentioned her struggles with the corporate started when she raised considerations about office security, which led to points round office harassment and discrimination as effectively. She mentioned Apple retaliated towards her, and so she turned to co-workers on Slack in July.

“I sort of misplaced religion in them,” Gjovik mentioned of Apple’s human assets and worker assets groups. Quickly, she mentioned co-workers have been sharing about their experiences too.

Gjovik wasn’t alone. Some teams of Apple staff had already begun organizing on Slack, Twitter, Discord and different locations to debate points and start asking for modifications to the corporate’s work tradition. Group letters to administration have been leaked to the press, too. One of many letters leaked earlier within the yr, in Might, criticized Apple’s hiring of Antonio Garcia-Martinez, a former Fb product supervisor who’d written a e book by which he known as ladies within the San Francisco Bay Space “tender and weak, cosseted and naive regardless of their claims of worldliness, and customarily filled with shit.” Apple parted methods with him in response.

Then the workers started pushing again on Apple’s efforts to set a minimum number of days employees need to be in the office because it ready to reopen with the easing of the pandemic. Apple’s plans have since been delayed to next year.

Earlier this month, a bunch of staff printed an open letter to Cook and the corporate’s senior management, asking the tech large to enhance the way it treats its 160,000 staff and “fulfill its promise of inclusion, diversity and equity.”

Within the letter, the group requested for elevated privateness over private data; clear and truthful compensation; an audit of all relationships with different corporations; elevated accountability throughout management and human useful resource groups; and a course of for sharing group considerations. The letter additionally asks for a reinvestigation of all reviews of “racism, discrimination, abuse, harassment, concerted exercise suppression and retaliation” at Apple.

They printed the letter on their web site, AppleToo, an oblique reference to the #MeToo movement that gained traction following revelations of sexual harassment and assault by disgraced former Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Scarlett has turn into a public face of AppleToo; Gjovik tweeted that though she’s not associated with the group specifically, she helps their effort.

Scarlett and Gjovik have filed separate complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, which confirmed it is investigating. Gjovik’s additionally received approval by California and the US civil rights businesses to sue. Scarlett at present works for Apple as a software program engineer, however the firm fired Gjovik earlier this month for allegedly leaking confidential product-related data, according to Gizmodo and Bloomberg, reportedly including that she’d additionally didn’t cooperate in the course of the “investigatory course of.” (Gjovik earlier mentioned she didn’t know the specifics in regards to the “confidential data” she was accused of exposing.)

The result of those complaints may take weeks, months or “much longer,” because the NLRB says on its website.

Below stress


Apple CEO Tim Prepare dinner has been grilled by lawmakers on Capitol Hill and a decide overseeing an antitrust trial.


Whereas Apple faces stress from staff, it is also discovering itself more and more twisted up in authorized proceedings and political debates at house and overseas. In South Korea, the legislature handed a legislation making an attempt to force changes to restrictions Apple and Google placed on their app shops, together with a rule that further purchases made inside an app be processed by the businesses. Epic Video games, maker of the hit on-line battle title Fortnitesued Apple over its App Store as effectively, arguing it ought to reverse guidelines stopping exterior app shops or unapproved apps from operating on iPhones or iPads. Epic largely misplaced the courtroom battle in a Sept. 10 ruling, though it’s appealing the decision.

Activists and advocates have additionally begun urgent the corporate on privateness considerations. Earlier this yr, 1000’s signed open letters pushing Apple to desert new expertise it designed to combat little one exploitation — options they fear may very well be twisted into tools of mass surveillance. (Apple this month determined to delay that technology’s release, a transfer that upset little one security advocates, with out giving a brand new timeline.)

Apple, in the meantime, has continued to pump out new merchandise, asserting an up to date iPad Mini, Apple Watch Series 7 and iPhone 13 throughout a extremely produced 80-minute video presentation final week. In his evaluation of the iPhone 13, CNET’s Patrick Holland mentioned Apple “delivers a delightful upgrade,” praising the cameras and battery life particularly.

Analysts count on the smartphone to guide the corporate’s lineup, promoting about 82 million items in the course of the vacation procuring season, in line with AB Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi. That might put gross sales roughly according to Apple’s record last year after releasing the iPhone 12.

Prepare dinner headlined the Sept. 14 occasion introducing the brand new merchandise as he has for the last decade since being named CEO, succeeding Jobs. Listening to him excitedly focus on Apple’s upcoming merchandise and his firm’s “uniqueness,” you’d have by no means identified so many darkish clouds hung over him.

“It is a unprecedented time to be at Apple,” he mentioned.

Replace, 11:20 a.m. PT: Provides clarification about Gjovik’s employment and particulars round circumstances of her firing. | Apple’s beneath unprecedented stress because it prepares iPhone 13 launch


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