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SEC inquiry into Steve Jobs health is too murky to go anywhere

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission wants to know what Apple's board really knew about Steve Jobs' medical condition when Jobs announced on Jan.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission wants to know what Apple's board really knew about Steve Jobs' medical condition when Jobs announced on Jan. 5 that he had hormone imbalance and, nine days later, said his condition was more complex and that he would take a medical leave through the end of June.

A Bloomberg report this morning cites unnamed sources that say that the SEC wants to know if Apple or Jobs misled investors when the announcements were made. But a source also told Bloomberg the investigation doesn't necessarily mean that the SEC will accuse Jobs or the board of any wrongdoing.

In fact, it's probably unlikely that this investigation will go anywhere, largely because of the murky circumstances surrounding it. In both announcements, it was Jobs - not the company - who offered details about his own medical condition, which, as a private individual, he can do if he so chooses. If the company had issued those statements, it might have been construed as a violation of Jobs' right to privacy.

Here's the thing: we can have this debate over right to privacy vs. right to know until we're blue in the face. But, now that time has passed, we know a couple of more things we didn't know back in January. We know that Apple's business as a whole was not impacted by Jobs being on medical leave. At the worldwide developers conference a couple of weeks before Jobs returned to work, the company launched updates to the Mac line and introduced the new iPhone 3G S, a device whose opening weekend sales of more than 1 million devices far exceeded the projections set by analysts.

And while Jobs likely had his hands in the development of these products long before he went on leave (and likely had some input during his leave), it further clouds the issue of what investors needed to know about his medical condition. After all, the argument is that it's a material fact because it will have an impact on the company.

But did it have an impact on the company? Apple seemed to do just fine with folks like COO Tim Cook at the helm. Maybe that means it wasn't much of a material fact after all.

My guess is the SEC's investigation into Apple and disclosures into Steve Jobs health eventually will become a quietly closed file.

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