Everybody loves a good Apple leak—except for Apple. The notoriously secretive company is now suing an ex-employee for stealing and then selling trade secrets to a currently unnamed journalist in exchange for dubious favors.
The ex-employee, according to court documents, is Simon Lancaster, who worked as an Advanced Materials Lead and Product Design Architect for the Cupertino-based company. Per Lancaster’s LinkedIn, he worked on a number of Apple products including the iPad, Magic Mouse, and some Macbooks. In the filing, Apple alleges that Lancaster “abused his position and trust within the company to systematically disseminate Apple’s sensitive trade secret information in an effort to obtain personal benefits.” As in, Lancaster allegedly bandied about his senior role to gain access to meetings and documents that had nothing to do with his actual job and then peddled them for quid pro quo favors.
Among the damning accusations, Lancaster allegedly suggested that in exchange for Apple secrets, the unnamed correspondent write-up rosy articles about a startup he was investing in, and in another instance, requested the reporter investigate a rumor that would hurt another company Lancaster had invested in. Lancaster also asked the journalist to write a puff piece about him, suggesting they write “about a 12-year Apple Design Veteran leaving for an amazing startup.” That’s on top of numerous other instances where the journalist allegedly asked for specific documents about gadgets and unannounced projects, which Lancaster then provided.
The filing also refers to a “Project X” which isn’t defined but Lancaster allegedly stole secrets about it after he’d already resigned from Apple but before his last day. “Lancaster attended this meeting specifically so that he could obtain the information regarding Project X that the Correspondent had previously asked him to misappropriate.” Lancaster apparently went to the meeting, despite multiple employees telling him that he had no business being there. On his last day as an Apple employee, Lancaster also apparently used his credentials to download confidential information to help his new company.
Apple also alleges that even though Lancaster isn’t currently working there anymore, he remains an “ongoing threat” as his new company is an Apple vendor. That means the vendor is privy to some confidential information, and by proxy, so is Lancaster.
It’s unknown what Project X is, though given recent rumors it could be Apple’s AR or VR headsets. It could also possibly be the infamous Apple Car, though that’s been long rumored to be called Project Titan. The journalist in question is also currently unknown, though that hasn’t stopped some from speculating who they might be. Needless to say, should the allegations be true, this is all blatantly unethical behavior on both Lancaster and the unnamed reporter’s parts.
This isn’t the first time Apple’s sued an ex-employee, either. In December 2019, the company sued a former chip designer for secretly using Apple resources to create a competing semiconductor company. The Apple rumor industry is as risky as it is lucrative—and given the steady stream of leaks over the years, it’s highly unlikely that Lancaster was the only leaker around. In this case, it seems Apple is making an example out of Lancaster. Whether it’s effective remains to be seen, but we all know Tim Cook’s actually kind of scary when he gets mad.