Death is Too High a Price to Protect Apple's Secrets

Ever since Apple's own near death experience in the 1990s, the company has had a single minded focus on, first, resurrection, then vindication, and finally huge financial excess. Now, someone has died in connection with Apple's influence over Chinese suppliers. It's time for Apple to reconsider.

Apple has some qualities we like in a company and some we don't like. It makes great products that work well with each other, and the company exhibits a single minded pursuit of product excellence. People appreciate using finely crafted tools, and that has brought Apple a lot of success.

Today, however, we have heard the sad news of a Chinese worker, Foxconn employee Yong Sun Dan (Sun Danyong), who committed suicide after he apparently misplaced an Apple iPhone 4G prototype.

A lot of fuss is going to be made about about this event, and more details will emerge. For now, I want to use this event as a stepping stone to a broader issue, something I have spoken of before, namely that Apple is a company that doesn't exactly have a reputation for balance and restraint.

I described this previously in "An Examination of Executive Power at Apple, Part II." In that article, I explored the purpose of power, judgment and restraint. I predicted that as Apple became more and more powerful and financially successful as a company, there would be a corresponding responsibility to deal with its power and success in more socially responsible ways.

And now, three years later, Apple shows no signs of changing, no signs of introspection, no signs of realizing that absolute power -- seeking to ensure its own survival -- ultimately corrupts absolutely.

What's even more troublesome is that Apple doesn't have a legacy of offsetting behavior. Neither the company nor its CEO have a reputation for charitable support -- in contrast to what Bill Gates is doing with his acquired wealth. A thin-skinned Apple is highly adverse to overtures for good causes -- save their green manufacturing and the $100K spent to oppose California Proposition 8 last year.

As a result, in balance, Apple doesn't appear to have a lot of offsetting behavior that can be used in its defense. Rather, Apple's extreme obsession with secrecy put so much pressure on Foxconn that a young man lost his life as a result of subsequent events. In a sober assessment of a chain of causality, Apple's business practices must take responsibility for that pressure.

Great power demands great responsibility. Recently, we've all been provided with blunt instruction on how abuse of power and a single minded focus on money alone has led us down a sad road, nearly driving us to financial ruin. It's my hope that a company like Apple, with so many degrees of freedom, so many talented people and the admiration of so many can rise up to a higher standard in its business practices.

Money and success are great - until the price of obtaining it goes too high.