Apple Spies On The Media 'Using Anonymized Social Media Accounts'


Tim Cook in shades

REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Apple CEO Tim Cook may be changing the way the company deals with the media.

Mark Gurman, one of the more important bloggers who covers Apple, has a written a masterful, in-depth breakdown of how Apple's PR team manipulates the media.

It's well worth a read for anyone interested in how one company manages to dominate the conversation in tech, even though its products - while good - are often not perfect.

Gurman's overall thesis is simple. Much of what he writes is ancient history, but it's a history that isn't often examined in one place, altogether. It's also something not often stated aloud by journalists who cover Apple: That the company expends a huge amount of energy wooing a small number of tech journalists upon whom it can rely for positive coverage. It gives minimal attention, or actively undermines, everyone else.


A large number of tech bloggers come to believe they have a "relationship" with Apple, even though that relationship consists of nothing more than the occasional email or phone call with an Apple PR exec and an invitation to Apple's press events - such as the heavily stage-managed launch of iPhone 6, coming up on Sept. 9. These journalists and bloggers - which include the editors and publishers of high-profile mainstream publishing titles - believe they are having some sort of ongoing conversation with Apple's management. In fact they are not. The result is that their outlets publish a lot of pro-Apple articles.

Among the nuggets that Gurman delivers:

Apple uses anonymous social media accounts to keep tabs on writers: "Members of Apple PR ... keep tabs on prominent Apple beat writers using anonymized social media accounts." [We would add that this type of surveillance is obvious and trivial - after all, media writers are conducting their social media activity in public for all to see. It doesn't harm anyone. Nonetheless, it also implies that Apple's PR execs are technically engaging in a subterfuge if they operate social media accounts on behalf of Apple without telling the people they follow that they're Apple accounts.]


Apple prefers to deal with writers who do not criticize the company: "Apple's PR department presents a cool, measured public-facing image: it only responds to press inquiries when it wants to, doesn't offer quotes unless they'll be reprinted without criticism, and responds directly only when it determines that something needs to be said by 'Apple' rather than 'sources familiar with the matter.'"

Apple actively undermines media organizations who criticize it too much: "When Apple realized that The New York Times was gunning to win the Pulitzer Prize for its controversial iEconomy series on the Apple supply chain, Apple's PR team sent articles criticizing The New York Times to other journalists, according to a person familiar with the strategy." (You can read more about this here.)

Apple actively feeds a small number of tech bloggers who are "attack dogs": "Another journalist noted dryly that the bloggers' words are widely repeated when they serve as Apple's attack dogs, so Apple keeps them happy, despite whatever their raw traffic numbers might be."


This email is an example of Apple suggesting to a friendly tech blogger that he or she write an article attacking Google's Android mobile phone product:

Apple revises history in its official record of events, such as when, after a 2013 presentation of the Anki robot racing game went wrong at a press event, Apple cut the event from its web site: "This was the keynote in which Apple planned to cement Tim Cook, Jony Ive, and Craig Federighi as the three public faces of Apple's bright new future. Inviting Anki to show an expensive, not particularly compelling toy that couldn't even work reliably on stage was a rare misstep for a company that prides itself on getting every detail correct. Unsurprisingly, Apple cut the scene from their posted recording of the event."


apple pr vp katie cotton


Katie Cotton

Katie Cotton, Apple's as-yet un-replaced PR chief, is described as "heartless": "She expected employees would be 'working all day from the office no matter what,' said a former employee. While not surprising for the head of a small but critical Apple division, this expectation was viewed as heartless when Cotton would not allow a new mother to work from home one day a week, recalled a former employee. The choice between Apple and family could not have been starker.

Gurman speculates that Cotton may not have left voluntarily: "... As an Apple employee said, 'is Tim going to [still] want Katie, an attack dog with Steve's DNA' at the helm of the company's image? Cook opened Apple up to the Fair Labor Association, began to match employee charitable contributions, and gradually made not only himself but also other top executives available for magazine interviews. Change was afoot at Apple, and Cook wasn't playing by all of the established rules."

"... It's somewhat surprising that an 18-year veteran of Apple would abruptly depart the firm with no successor in place, and have no obvious say in who her replacement may be. Considering that Cotton left Apple the work day before WWDC, Apple's largest event of the year, and also that she technically remains an Apple employee (following Scott Forstall, who served as an "advisor" for a few months short of a year following his departure), evidence suggests that she did not leave entirely of her own accord."


Read the whole thing here.