In a column for Wired.com Leander Kahney writes about the possibility that Apple creates false products to test the loyalty of their employees. The practice, sometimes called a "canary trap" involves seeding small groups of employees false information about a non-existent product to see who "sings."
For his story Leander spoke to a former Apple employee that is convinced that a canary trap was set in the case of their unannounced "Asteroid" project.
I was talking recently with an ex-Apple staffer who worked high up at the company for many years, often closely with CEO Steve Jobs. The programmer, who asked not to be named, was convinced the Asteroid product was invented, a figment of Jobs' imagination dreamed up to find the source of leaks -- the old "canary trap."
For those not familiar with the Asteroid case: Apple filed suit in December 2004 against 20 unnamed "John Does" who they suspected released information about an unannounced audio hardware product (code-named "Asteroid") and was subsequently granted the right to subpoena PowerPage, AppleInsider and Think Secret. In May 2006 Apple lost the case when the courts upheld the rights of online journalists to protect their confidential sources and put them on par with traditional journalists. In January 2007 the court ordered Apple to pay over $700,000 in attorney's fees associated with the case.
I have a slightly different take on the situation. I highly doubt that Apple would go as far as to fabricate products in order to flesh out leaks. It takes far too much effort which could be better used in creating actual products. In the Asteroid case this would mean that Apple lied to the courts. In their court filings Apple claimed that they suffered loses as a result of the Asteroid leaks that were published and that they were damaged because competitors were given early notice about an unannounced product. I don't think that Apple would go to the effort of making up a product and lying to the courts, it's just not in their best interest.
Apple's secrecy is a thing of legend and they go to some intense measures in an attempt to keep their products under wraps. Apple's disdain of leaks is not as much about competitors getting tipped off and stealing their ideas (that's what patents are for) or cannibalizing existing sales (early exposure can lead to even more attention and sales).
It's that Steve Jobs banks on the big bang and ripple effect of his keynote announcement and all the free publicity (translation: sales) that follows. It's well known that Steve's keynote addresses have a quantifiable dollar value in the halo of PR that follows. Anything that takes away even a fractional amount of that free publicity is perceived as negative.
Do you think that Apple's devious enough to actually fabricate products in order to flesh out leakers?