Former employee says Apple spied on his private messages

Apple is currently suing a former employee for breach of contract and for poaching several employees for his own startup. The former employee, meanwhile, claims the company’s main evidence was obtained by monitoring his texts.

The lawsuit, which Apple filed in a California court, alleges that Gerard Williams III breached an intellectual property agreement that prohibited him from doing anything to compete with the company. Williams, formerly the top architect of Apple‘s mobile chips, started Nuvia in February, which manufactures chips for data centers.

It sounds like a dry case, but the juicy picture the two parties are painting makes me want to grab some popcorn and watch. Nuvia’s two other leaders, Manu Gulati and John Bruno, are also Apple alumni. In addition to coaxing employees to leave Apple while still under its employ, Apple also claims that Williams based Nuvia’s chips on work he’d done for the Cupertino company:

This case involves a worst-case scenario for an innovative company like Apple: A trusted senior director with years of experience, and years of access to Apple’s most valuable information, secretly starts a competing company leveraging the very technology the director was working on, and the same teams he was working with, while still employed by Apple.

Williams’ little legal turnabout, in this case, is that Apple illegally collected text messages sent between him and Nuvia’s co-founders while building their case. In his countersuit, his legal team writes:

To further intimidate any current Apple employee who might dare consider leaving Apple, Apple’s complaint shows that it is monitoring and examining its employees’ phone records and text messages, in a stunning and disquieting invasion of privacy.

One part of the complaint from Apple — which has apparently flirted with the idea of designing servers — is that Williams used his insider knowledge of the company’s intentions. He built Nuvia specifically to be something Apple would need — which he does say in one of the obtained text messages.

Whether or not Apple obtained these messages directly from Williams’ phone or some kind of backup they had stored, I would not be the slightest bit surprised if the company was monitoring its employees. Leaks are still a thing that happens, after all.

The part that might sink Apple’s lawsuit isn’t necessarily the text messages. The company claims that Williams breached duty of loyalty by working on his startup before leaving Apple. California has a ban on non-compete clauses in contracts, so a judge might take a dim view of a company attempting to enforce what amounts to the same thing.

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