The tech giant is fighting regulation in South Korea, a courtroom case in California and employee revolts -- and it's all tied to social media, Slack and the App Store.
Cher Scarlett is a senior-level software engineer who initially learned programming by reading the code in websites she liked. Scarlett was hired to work for Apple about a year and a half ago, but she's been doing a lot more than coding the past few months. She's attempted to organize an internal employee compensation survey, publicized worker complaints and helped draft an open letter to CEO Tim Cook criticizing working conditions. Now she and a growing group of people are at the center of one of Apple's biggest reckonings about how it treats its own employees and whether it lives up to the ideals of diversity, inclusion and tolerance that Cook and his executives espouse.
As per Scarlett, is part of a burgeoning movement called #AppleToo, created to change Apple's culture. Many of them believe Apple's revered and often-emulated approach to extreme secrecy has a downside. Apple created world-changing devices including the iPod and iPhone by siloing teams and teaching them to never reveal their work -- even to their colleagues. But critics say the 45-year-old company, co-founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976, also created an environment where people seem terrified to blow the whistle on bad behavior, including sexual harassment, pay discrimination and other hostile work conditions.
Cultures that heavily reward loyalty create this perfect storm where you're kind of expected to 'keep it in the family,'" Scarlett said in an interview this month. She and other current and former Apple employees have turned to social media to share frustrations about the company's culture. On Medium, Scarlett has published some of her co-workers' stories of sexual harassment, assault and racism that appeared to be ignored by management. "We have some very bad actors taking advantage to prey on vulnerable people. We need change. We need it now," one anonymous employee wrote in a post Scarlett published.
Employees aren't the only ones taking Apple to task. Lawmakers, regulators, competitors and activists around the globe are bearing down on Cook and the company from a multitude of angles, including new laws, investigations, antitrust trials and letter-writing campaigns. In every case, they're pushing Apple to change fundamental business practices. This pressure, coming on multiple fronts and from inside and out, underscores that even Apple, with its horde of loyal fans, isn't immune to the backlash facing the tech industry. It's just one of many giants, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, under siege as more people begin to question just how much power and influence they hold over our lives.
Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies, said the scrutiny has come in part because of how deeply tech is woven into modern life and the revelations that some companies have abused that power. "It's the time we're in," she said. "We are more aware."
Until recently, Apple seemed above the fray. But even a company with tremendous power, and an iconic mantra like "Think Different," can only escape from so much.
Now the $2.4 trillion company is under the microscope like never before. And it's happening during a once-in-a-century pandemic and economic catastrophe. And just as Apple's about to start selling the iPhone 13, its most important product release of the year.
Apple declined to discuss individual employee matters, citing privacy of anyone involved. "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace," an Apple spokesman said in a statement. "We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised."