KelliPundit notes some disturbing news about Apple suing the operator of the Mac rumor site Think Secret. Think Secret broke the Mac mini, the iPod shuffle, and other bits of Mac news before yesterday’s launch at MacWorld, and has been a consistant source of Apple news for years now.
I understand Apple’s need for secrecy, but before they’ve been content to send your typical cease-and-desist letter to the site owners and let bygones be bygones. However, this is the first time they’ve opened suit against a rumor site owner. It’s a disturbing precedent, to be sure.
On the other hand, I doubt this is about Think Secret. I also don’t think John Gruber is quite right either. This isn’t about expectations or marketing, it’s about corporate espionage. Apple is an R&D focused company. If Think Secret can get the details on their new products, so can Dell, Intel, Microsoft, or others. Apple knows they have leaks, and they’re trying to plug them.
That’s what I think this is all about. Apple doesn’t really care about Think Secret – if anything the excitement helps drive sales. What Apple does care about are Think Secret’s sources, and that’s what they’re going after. I think that Apple would very likely drop the suit if Nick Ciarelli (the 19 year-old Harvard student who publishes Think Secret) would divulge his sources. Of course, that assumes that Ciarelli has any way of knowing the identity of his sources. Think Secret promises anonymity, and it’s quite possible that Apple is simply barking up the wrong tree. At the same time, Apple may be hoping that if they put enough pressure on the leakers they’ll be able to keep them quiet or cause them to slip up.
I don’t see Apple pursuing this much farther, and they’d be stupid to do so. The goodwill of users is crucial to Apple, and while cease-and-desist letters are one thing, legal threats are entirely another. The loss of sales from all the bad press would more than make up for the competitive losses suffered by Apple by the leaks. At the same time, Apple has the right, and even the obligation to protect their research. Under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, Apple would probably have a strong case against Ciarelli. However, the costs of this case would undo all the positive PR Apple has gained. Given that Apple is trying to expand its marketshare, that’s just not a sound strategy. You don’t win converts by suing some of your most vocal supporters.