Perhaps embarrassingly for Apple, the company's policies on social networking and blogging were leaked during the week, which ironically state how its employees should conduct themselves as to not leak data.
Apple's regulations include separate guidelines for social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. They cover confidentially, customer privacy and rumour commentary in depth; with distinct guidelines of conduct over email and media platforms.
In general, what employees do in their own time is their choice, but Apple states in its guides that:
"The lines between public and private, and personal and professional are blurred in online social networks. Respect your audience and your co-workers. This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also topics that may be considered offensive or inflammatory. In sum, use your best judgment."
Some interesting points include:
Employees may run their own websites, but are not permitted to discuss Apple on that website.
No speculating on rumours is allowed. This includes confirming or denying any information concerning new products, Apple regulations or services.
Blogs, wikis, social networks and other tools should not be used for communication among fellow employees. This regulation goes further in stating that differences shouldn't be aired online, co-workers should not be discussed without their permission, and any images relating to other staff members cannot be posted anywhere without their express permission.
Staff are not permitted to post messages or commentary on any Mac or Apple related websites; whether they identify themselves as Apple employees or not.
If you identify yourself as an Apple employee, you connect yourself with co-workers, products, and the global brand itself -- so conduct online needs to be consistent with Apple policies.
Apple's fullbusiness conduct policy applies to employees and any who do business with Apple retrospectively. Apple retains the right to discipline (up to termination of employment), or cut ties of any that do not comply with these regulations.
Customer privacy is viewed as a priority for Apple as a brand. Any information concerning customers is not to be discussed online in any circumstance. Apple employees are also not permitted to contact customers for social reasons or soliciting outside of business.
Taking a deeper look at these guidelines, Apple emphasises that 'public' and 'private' information are no longer separate in online social networks; clearly where the hapless employee was snagged during his tribunal.
Privacy settings continually change, and any information we post is viewable in some manner or another, it becomes public domain. In this manner, any written, evidential proof of employer or brand-bashing can be viewed as a means of breaking the business conduct policy.
The Cupertino-based company is incredibly protective of their brand, and has a global image to maintain. Any negative comments placed online by an employee could have serious consequences; an iProduct rumour being confirmed or denied could ruin a product debut.
It is unlikely a rant or two would cause deep damage to the Apple image, but without online restriction the brand could lose that sense of professionalism that inspires so many.