12 Jul Headquartered in Cupertino, California, Apple Inc. has experienced many successes throughout their business history. Apples journey to success has not been without ethical challen
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Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures Auburn University
An Apple a Day: Ethics at Apple Inc.
Headquartered in Cupertino, California, Apple Inc. has experienced many successes throughout
their business history. Apple’s journey to success has not been without ethical challenges along
the way. Apple’s success can be seen from their stock price, up from $3.30 per share in 1997 to
$320 per share in 2020. Although companies try to copy the Apple business model, none have
been able to discover what it is that makes Apple so unique. Apple is a market leader in the
development and sales of mobile devices. Although Apple has consistently won a spot on
Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list, it has experienced several ethical issues
throughout the company’s history. As a “tech giant,” Apple is monitored extensively due to their
extremely large market share and consequently the ability to abuse this power. Consumers and
regulators stay alert for instances of abusive power, monopolies, and unfair practices that should
Apple’s first product, the Apple I, was vastly different from the Apple products most are familiar
with today. This first handmade computer kit was constructed by Apple cofounder Steve
Wozniak. It lacked a graphic user interface (GUI), and buyers had to add their own keyboard and
monitor. Cofounder Steve Jobs convinced Wozniak that it could be sold as a commercial
product. In 1976, the Apple I was unveiled at the Home Brew Computer Club and put on sale for
Jobs and Wozniak continued to create innovative products. Soon their new company,
Apple Computer Inc., surpassed $1 million in sales. However, the mid-1980s brought difficult
*This case was prepared by Kelsey Reddick, Jennifer Sawayda, Harper Baird, Danielle Jolley, and Julian Mathias for and under the direction of O.C. Ferrell and Linda Ferrell © 2021. It was prepared for classroom discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative, ethical, or legal decision by management. All sources used for this case were obtained through publicly available material.
times for Apple. In 1983, the company introduced the Apple Lisa aimed at business users for
$10,000. The product flopped. In 1985, Steve Jobs was ousted after internal conflicts with
Apple’s then-CEO. The company’s products, such as the Mac I and the Newton, an early
personal digital assistant (PDA), were not successful, and the company underwent several CEO
changes. With declining stock prices, the future of Apple was in jeopardy.
Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 to try and save the struggling company. The return
of Jobs introduced a new era for Apple. Jobs immediately began to change the company’s
corporate culture. Before Jobs’s return, employees were more open with the public about Apple
projects. After he returned, Jobs instituted a “closed door” policy. Aside from efforts to protect
intellectual property internally, Jobs was also a proponent of using litigation against rival
companies suspected of patent infringement. As competition in the smart phone category heated
up, Apple sued Nokia, HTC, and Samsung in 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively. Perhaps the
most notable lawsuits were made against Samsung, where both companies filed suits against
each other across nine countries over a three-year period. In total, Apple and Samsung filed more
than 40 patent infringement lawsuits and countersuits related to intellectual property rights. The
companies decided to end litigation outside of the United States, choosing to focus instead on
cases that are still active in the United States. Today, Apple continues to remain vigilant in
protecting their technology and ensuring information remains proprietary. Jobs also created a
flattened organizational structure; rather than go through layers of management to address
employees, he addressed them directly. Perhaps one of the most noticeable changes, however,
was Apple’s expansion into new product lines within the electronics industry.
In 2001, Apple launched the iPod—a portable music player that forever changed the
music industry. The company also introduced iTunes, an application that allowed users to
organize and manage their personalized song libraries. Two years later, Apple introduced the
iTunes Store, where users could download millions of their favorite songs for $0.99 each online.
While iTunes has since been phased out, it was a landmark moment for both Apple and the
music industry. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 was a turning point for Apple and the
beginning of a paradigm shift for the entire world. The iPhone was a revolutionary new
smartphone with the music capabilities of an iPod.
The same year that Apple introduced the iPhone, Jobs announced Apple Computer, Inc.
would be renamed Apple Inc. This signified that Apple was no longer just a computer
manufacturer but also a driver in consumer electronics. Some saw this as a shift away from
computers toward consumer electronics such as Apple TV, iPods, iTunes, iPhones, and iPads.
However, it may be more accurate to say Apple is reinventing computers. The iPad was so
popular that Apple sold more 1 million iPads in 4 weeks. Less than 2 years after its release,
consumers had purchased more than 25 million iPads. However, the growth in tablet computers
is diminishing. Analysts believed tablet sales would continue growing at a rapid rate, but the
tablet market eventually became saturated with fewer than expected customers upgrading their
current tablets to newer versions. However, while Samsung and Amazon both report a decline in
tablet sales in 2019, Apple reported growth with its newest model which features its first ever
In October 2011, Apple Inc. lost its iconic leader with the death of Steve Jobs. Apple’s
current CEO Tim Cook takes a more traditional approach in his management style by prioritizing
project and supply chain management over creative engineering, attending investor meetings,
being accessible to the media, and paying out dividends to stockholders. He still maintains the
secretive nature of the company but is more approachable than Jobs. Yet, while Cook seems to
possess the skills necessary for the CEO position, some fear he lacks the creative skills that made
Jobs such a visionary.
Apple is attempting to design products to continue expanding their customer base and remain
relevant in the industry. In 2015, the Apple Watch was released, making waves in wearable
technology. It is a wearable computing device that functions as an extension of the iPhone. With
its easy-to-use interface and broad selection of apps, Apple has dominated the smartwatch
category. Though many of Apple’s competitors, like Samsung and companies targeting fitness
enthusiasts, have extensive lines of wearable devices that sync with various operating systems
and mobile platforms, Apple holds 47 percent of the market share. It’s next closest competitor,
Samsung, only holds 13 percent of the market. Apple followed up this win with the introduction
of Airpods, wireless Bluetooth earbuds, in 2016 and the HomePod digital assistant in 2018. Cook
contends that wearables are a top contributor to the company’s growth.
In addition to its products, Apple’s services have been a source of growth for the company in
recent years. Apple Pay is a digital wallet service users can use to make payments through their
smartphone devices. Introduced in 2014, Apple Pay expanded throughout the United States and
internationally. The service substitutes the need to carry around credit and debit cards. When the
consumer wants to check out, he or she can use the smartphone to communicate the payment
information to the terminal and make the transaction. Building off of this success, Apple
introduced the Apple Card in 2019, a digital credit card.
Apple Music is an app offering that allows subscribers to stream music on demand. Released
in 2015, the service provided costs $9.99 per month for its individual plan with a three-month
free trial. Apple Music drew the ire of musicians at the beginning of its service, particularly
singer Taylor Swift, because it initially planned to avoid paying artists for the free trial. Apple
changed its mind and agreed to compensate artists. Rather than being a public relations disaster
for Apple, the incident helped create awareness about its new service offering. Apple has now
surpassed Spotify in paid subscribers in the United States, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Apple TV+, a streaming service, was launched in 2019. While it was late to the streaming
game—with long-established competitors such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime—Apple has
more than 10 million subscribers. Unlike other services, Apple TV+ launched with original
content only, lacking the back catalog of content that other platforms offer. Apple invested
heavily in premium originals, such as The Morning Show, Servant, and Dickenson. Possibly due
to production delayed associated with the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, Apple invested in
content deals in 2020 to fill its empty back catalog, thus expanding its product offering.
Thanks to its innovative products and marketing strategies, Apple has grown into one of the
most admired and successful brands in the world. To millions of consumers, the Apple brand
embodies quality, prestige, and innovation.
APPLE’S CORPORATE CULTURE
Apple’s transition from a computer to a consumer electronics company is unprecedented—and
hard to replicate. Although many can only speculate about why Apple succeeded so well, they
tend to credit Steve Jobs’s leadership abilities, Apple’s highly skilled employees, and their strong
The concept of evangelism is an important component of Apple’s culture. Corporate
evangelists refer to people who extensively promote a corporation’s products. Apple even had a
chief evangelist whose job was to spread the message about Apple and gain support for their
products. However, as the name evangelism implies, the role of evangelist takes on greater
meaning. Evangelists believe strongly in the company and will spread that belief to others, who
in turn convince other people. Therefore, evangelists are not only employees but loyal customers
as well. In this way, Apple was able to form what they refer to as a “Mac cult”—customers who
are loyal to Apple’s Mac computers and who spread a positive message about Macs to their
friends and families.
Successful evangelism only occurs with dedicated, enthusiastic employees who are willing to
spread the word. When Jobs returned to Apple, he instituted two cultural changes: he encouraged
debate on ideas and he created a vision employees could believe in. By implementing these two
changes, employees felt their input was important and they were a part of something bigger than
themselves. Such feelings created a sense of loyalty among those working at Apple.
Apple prides themselves on this unique corporate culture. On their job site for corporate
employees, Apple markets the company as a “demanding” but rewarding workplace where
employees work among “the best of the best.” Original thinking, innovation, inventing—all are
common daily activities for Apple employees. By offering both challenges and benefits to
applicants, Apple hopes to attract those who fit best with their corporate culture.
Apple also looks for retail employees who fit well in their culture. It wants to ensure that
their retail employees make each customer feel welcome. Inside Apple retailers are stations
where customers can test and experiment with the latest Apple products. Employees are trained
to speak with customers within two minutes of entering the store. To ensure their retail
employees feel motivated, Apple provides extensive training, greater compensation than
employees might receive at similar stores, and opportunities to move up to higher level positions,
such as manager, genius (an employee trained to answer the more difficult customer questions),
or creative (an employee who trains customers one-on-one or through workshops). Apple also
offers people the chance to intern with the firm, become student representatives at their schools,
or work remotely during college as home advisors.
Another benefit Apple offers combines employee concerns with concerns of the
environment. In an effort to reduce their overall environmental impact, Apple offers incentives
such as transit subsidies for employees who opt to use public transportation. In addition, as part
of their long-term commitment to sustainability, Apple spent $850 million for 25 years of solar
power. Apple’s global facilities run on 100 percent renewable energy, including retail stores,
offices, and data centers. Apple also opened a new facility, named Apple Campus 2. With a
budget of $5 billion, the facility includes a fitness center, underground auditorium, and 300
electric vehicle charging stations. The buildings at the campus are Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) certified and incorporate solar technology. The campus is also
conveniently located so that many employees can walk, ride, or carpool to work. These
incentives reduce fuel costs for employees while simultaneously lowering emissions released
into the environment.
Apple has tried to ensure their employees and those with whom they work display appropriate
conduct in all situations. They base their success on “creating innovative, high-quality products
and services and on demonstrating integrity in every business interaction.” According to Apple,
four main principles contribute to integrity: honesty, respect, confidentiality, and compliance. To
thoroughly detail these principles, Apple drafted a code of business conduct that applies to all
their operations, including those overseas. They also provide specific policies regarding
corporate governance, director conflict of interest, and guidelines on reporting questionable
conduct on their website. Apple provides employees with a Business Conduct Helpline they can
use to report misconduct to Apple’s Audit and Finance Committee.
Many of Apple’s product components are manufactured in countries with low labor costs.
The potential for misconduct is high because of differing labor standards and less direct
oversight. As a result, Apple makes each of their suppliers sign a “Supplier Code of Conduct”
and performs factory audits to ensure compliance. Apple may refuse to do additional business
with suppliers who refuse to comply with their standards. To emphasize their commitment
toward responsible supplier conduct, Apple releases an annual Apple Supplier Responsibility
Report that explains their supplier expectations as well as audit conclusions and corrective
actions the company takes against factories where violations occur.
ETHICAL ISSUES AT APPLE
Although Apple is widely admired, they have experienced several ethical issues. These issues
could have a profound effect on the company’s future success. Apple’s sterling reputation could
easily be damaged by serious misconduct or a failure to address risks appropriately.
Consumer tracking is a controversial issue. With the increase in social networking, mobile
devices, and internet use, the ability for companies to track customers is greater than ever before.
For Apple, more customer information can help the company better understand consumer trends
and subsequently market their products more effectively. However, a perceived breach in privacy
is likely to result in backlash against the company.
In 2011, Apple experienced just such a backlash. Apple and Google disclosed that certain
smartphone apps and software, often utilizing the phones’ internal GPS devices, collected data
on the phones’ locations. Consumers and government officials saw this as an infringement on
user privacy. The companies announced that users have the option to disable these features on
their phones, yet this was not entirely true for Apple’s iPhone. Some smartphones continued to
collect location information even after users disabled the “location” feature. Apple attributed this
to a glitch they remedied with new software. In subsequent iPhone releases, Apple improved the
privacy features of iOS, the mobile operating system found in the iPhone and iPad. The security
upgrades have included enhanced Wi-Fi security and a default policy that location features are
turned. Once the smartphone is set up, users have the option of turning on the location feature if
they desire. Both Google and Apple defend their data-collection mechanisms, but many
government officials question whether these tracking techniques are ethical.
Another privacy controversy was related to Apple Pay, software that allows consumers to
purchase items both online and in-person through their iPhones. The mobile payment system
became a target for hackers, who exploited vulnerabilities in the verification process of adding a
credit card to an Apple Pay account. The issue with hackers gaining access to payment
information is at least partially the responsibility of the banking institutions, since they approve
the addition of credit cards to Apple Pay accounts. Banks did not ask enough security
verification questions, making it easier for consumers to add credit cards to their accounts and
also leaving the door open for increased fraud. Apple released a credit card in 2019 with
advanced security features to make credit card fraud significantly more difficult. The Apple
Card, intended to replace a traditional credit card, is built into the iPhone Wallet. Its enhanced
security and privacy features mean Apple, unlike regular credit card companies, will not know
purchase data for its customers. Additionally, the card uses one-time unique dynamic security
codes, replacing the static three-digit CVV.
To improve the security of its devices, Apple launched a bug bounty program designed to
reward security researchers who discover and disclose to Apple vulnerabilities in Macs,
MacBooks, Apple TV, and Apple Watch. Apple then resolves the security issues and rewards the
finder with $1 million. Before the bug bounty existed, security researchers could discover system
flaws and abuse them or sell the knowledge to exploit brokers. Additionally, under the new iOS
Security Research Device Program, Apple gives development phones to trusted security
researchers to discover vulnerabilities in the underlying software and operating system.
In 2016, after a couple opened fire in an office in San Bernardino, California, killing 14
people, Apple faced a privacy issue that pitted them against the FBI. The FBI believed that the
husband’s encrypted iPhone could reveal important information about the attack. Interestingly,
only a few years earlier, Apple had developed encryption systems making it more difficult for
forensic investigators to get into the system. The FBI asked for Apple’s help, but Apple claimed
that providing the government with a way to bypass their own security measures would set a
dangerous precedent that could place the privacy of millions of customers who use Apple
products at risk. The FBI issued a court order mandating Apple to help the government in this
matter. Apple refused, and the FBI dropped the case after they were able to hack into the iPhone
without Apple’s help. The conflict elicited mixed feelings from the general populace. Some felt
that this was a special case that could be used to fight terrorism while others believed it would
allow the U.S. government, and possibly other governments, to hack into the phones of private
citizens whenever they felt a need. This is just one of several cases where the government has
asked for access to secured tech devices in their investigation. Privacy advocates believe the
conflict between the government and tech giants like Apple is far from over. To this day, Apple
refuses to unlock iPhones for the FBI.
Another large complaint from consumers and developers occurred when Apple removed
several screen-time and parental control apps from the App Store. In some cases, Apple asked
companies to remove parental control features from their apps, and in other cases the apps were
simply removed from the store entirely. One app, Freedom, which allowed users to temporarily
block certain sites and apps on their devices, had more than 770,000 downloads before it was
removed. Apple stated that the apps they removed violated their rules because they allowed one
iPhone to control another. However, these practices had been allowed for years and the apps had
approved hundreds of versions of their apps over this time period. Apple responded that they
made these changes because of the risk that these apps could gain too much information from the
users’ devices, particularly a concern because the devices often belonged to children. The threat
against privacy and data security is something that Apple does not tolerate, but the timing of the
ban on these particular apps brought suspicion. Shortly after the incident, Apple launched their
own Screen Time tool, allowing users to limit and monitor their use of apps and overall phone
usage. Such timing focused antitrust concern and scrutiny on the issue of Apple’s dominance and
control over apps in their marketplace. Apple denies that the timing of these changes had to do
with the launch of their Screen Time tool. Users have voiced discontent with Apple’s Screen
Time tool, stating it provides less restrictions and is more complicated than the apps they were
previously using. Another issue raised is that the new tool included in Apple’s software requires
all users within a family to have iPhones, whereas the apps used previously allowed parents with
iPhones to control their child’s Android devices.
In 2019, Apple again faced criticism for how it protects consumer privacy when it was
discovered Siri recordings were kept without permission from users. By default, a small
percentage of recordings were sent to contractors who would grade the communication for
quality control purposes. Apple responded quickly, reviewing its practices and policies,
ultimately deciding to make the grading process an opt-in selection for Siri users and to no
longer store audio recordings. Additionally, Apple brought the evaluation of recordings in-house.
Thus, Apple’s customers, though loyal, do have product problems and service concerns that
require the company to make tough choices.
Another major ethical issue for Apple includes allegations of price fixing. A judge ruled that
Apple conspired to fix prices on e-books in conjunction with five major book publishers. A
federal judge ruled that Apple was part of a deal that required publishers to give Apple’s iTunes
store the best deals in the marketplace for e-books. According to allegations, Apple allowed
publishers to set the e-book prices for the iPad, and Apple received 30 percent of the proceeds
(known as the “agency model”). The agency model is thought to be less competitive than the
wholesale model, in which retailers and publishers negotiate on the price. However, if a
competitor was found to be selling the e-book for less, Apple was to be offered the same lower
price. This scheme is more commonly referred to as a most-favored-nation clause and can be
used by companies to dominate the market by keeping competitors out. After striking the deal
with Apple, publishers approached Amazon about participating in the contract. In court, Apple
faced fines totaling $450 million as part of a settlement agreement. Apple denied wrongdoing
and acknowledged only passive association with the deal to set e-book prices. In 2016, the
Supreme Court refused to hear Apple’s appeal. Apple was found guilty of violating the Sherman
Act and was fined $450 million, $400 million of which was refunded to impacted buyers.
Price-fixing allegations against Apple are not confined to the United States. Russia’s
Federal Antimonopoly Service found Apple guilty of forcing 16 retailers to fix prices on the
iPhone. Allegedly, Apple even contacted retailers who they felt were not adhering to the agreed-
upon price. Apple has denied these charges and claims resellers have always had the right to
price their products as they choose.
Just months after the introduction of the iPhone, a class action lawsuit was filed against Apple
claiming Apple illegally formed a monopoly with AT&T. The claim was that Apple violated
California’s antitrust law and the Sherman Antitrust Act. At the time, customers who purchased
an Apple iPhone signed a two-year service contract with AT&T, the exclusive carrier of the
iPhone. This locked in Apple customers with only one option. The five-year exclusivity
agreement between Apple and AT&T was publicly reported. However, many argued that the
exclusivity was not disclosed in the contracts customers signed, and customers were not aware
they were ultimately locked into five years of AT&T service. This lawsuit resulted in many other
similar lawsuits being filed. The case went to the Supreme Court.
The antitrust case against Apple turned its focus to the App Store practices of Apple.
Apple charges up to a 30 percent commission to app developers, bans them from selling their
apps elsewhere, and ultimately drives the price of apps. The 30 percent commission fee forces
app developers to increase the price of their apps in order to maintain profits. App makers have
complained for years that the practices are unfair, and that Apple has used monopoly power to
raise app prices and become a tech giant. The app store has more than 2 million apps and these
apps drive the daily lives of customers. Without the app store, iPhone users could not listen to
music (Spotify), catch a ride (Uber), or share photos (Instagram). Some competitors of Apple
such as Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon have sought to avoid these fees paid to Apple by
encouraging their consumers to subscribe dir
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