The prospect of knowing something that you aren’t meant to, has been tempting human beings to lie, cheat, steal and eavesdrop for thousands of years. In the 21st century things have changed very little. However, what has changed is the type of information people want to divulge and who they want to divulge it from. Whereas once politicians, royalty and society’s social elite would be the ones who were most concerned about having their private communications leaked and their secrets exposed, in the 21st century those who have the most to lose are the corporations.
Because of this, more and more money is being spent to keep data secure, especially data with direct commercial value. With this shift in attitude, whole industries have emerged around the protection of data. Companies like More than a VDR have done well offering secure data rooms to executives wishing to discuss and share sensitive data in private, while Swiss For Knox have taken data security to the extreme by building ultra-secure server farms in disused mountainside nuclear bunkers.
Whatever the sector, be it entertainment, technology or fashion, the leak of a completely digital product, a concept or even future corporate plans can result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. From Apples battle with an Australian teenager to Universal Music’s recent spate of leaked songs and albums, here we look at five of the biggest leaks of recent history and the effect they had on those who were involved.
Apple’s Australian problem
In September of this year Apple was wrestling with one of the most difficult to handle leaks of the company’s history courtesy of charismatic Australian teenager Sonny Dickson. Sonny started his career in the tech world as a local mobile phone and tablet repair guy. It was during this time that he built relationships with parts providers in China who would eventually allow him to get hold of unreleased and unseen components from the latest Apple products by bribing factory employees.
The main product which Sonny revealed was the iPhone 5s. More specifically, his website was the first online to show the new brushed metal casings. The fallout for this for Apple was huge, the space grey and gold (champagne) casings were a big departure from what some might think of as traditional Apple design. Without cool new features and a new OS to talk about, the media focused its attention on the “tacky” gold case design and the fact that an Australian teenager had apparently outsmarted one of the most successful companies in the world by bribing their massively underpaid foreign employees. Most definitely not a good bit of PR.
Sony’s leaked corporate signage
Sony have been well known for their corporate leaks for a long time. Everything from mobile phone prototypes to television and camera specs hit the online news outlets weeks and months before they were announced, let alone made available to shoppers on the high-street.
Sony even managed to upset the gaming community, a group who definitely don’t like their surprises ruined. When they offered hit game Grand Theft Auto V for pre-release download through the PlayStation Network, users were able to access some of the games files to leak key plot points, game play elements and even the sought after soundtrack playlist.
Their most humiliating leak is a recent one though. To curb the slew of corporate leaks coming from their head office, Sony invested in a new leaking policy which was communicated with signage throughout their offices. Before the day had even ended an unscrupulous employee had shared a snap of the poster in question on social media for the world to see, prompting headlines like “Sony’s no more leaks poster gets leaked” and bringing even more attention to their past security failings.
Universal Music’s uphill struggle.
Universal Music are fighting a constant battle against internet piracy and pre-release leaks including the leak of Lady Gaga’s new Artpop album and U2’s Horizon album almost two weeks before they were due for official release. What makes the situation especially difficult for Universal is that it’s sometimes the artist’s themselves who are making these albums and songs available to bloggers before general release.
In a recent example, hip hop artist Drake had leaked several of his tracks to underground music blogs and influential urban music sites, only to find that the sites were soon taken down at the request of Universal. He lashed out at his employers on twitter, saying that “Universal needs to stop taking my songs down. I am doing this for the people not for your label.” Perhaps if he wanted to make music for the people, then signing a deal granting universal the exclusive rights to his music was a mistake?
General Motors lets future plans slip
In 2009, shortly after receiving a huge government bailout, General Motors outraged the general public after details of their plan to export car production to China for the first time in the company’s history were leaked to the public.
The fallout from this was tremendous. General Motors has long been seen as a symbol of the failing American production industry and this news came amid a slew of media coverage about the threat that Chinese production posed to America. The general view of the American public and the motor industry unions was summed up in a letter to the US senate which simply read: “GM should not be taking the taxpayer’s money to finance the brutal outsourcing of jobs to other countries.”
Although this leak contained information which would have eventually had to be presented to the public anyway, ideally GM would have liked to break the disheartening news in a way that placed more distance between the bailout story and the outsourcing of hundreds of American jobs.
Wolverine movie gets leaked
In 2009 a rough cut of Marvels latest superhero offering, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was leaked a month before the films official release and was thought to have been downloaded 4.5 million by the time the film hit cinemas. The version that leaked was an early copy and included basic title fonts, simplified sound effects and a slightly different sequence of events than the theatrical release.
The studio behind the film 20th Century Fox took the leak very seriously, prompting an investigation by the FBI which led to arrests. Another victim of this leak was Fox News reporter Roger Friedman, who decided to write and publish a review of the leaked copy. This led to his immediate dismissal from the company, with both his employer and the film studio unhappy with his attempt to bring attention to the illegal copy.
Despite the leak, the film went on to do incredibly well, taking in $373 million worldwide. This is partly due to how well 20th Century Fox handled the leak, promoting the idea that real fans would wait to see the version in its full glory, rather than ruin it by watching scenes where green screen and wiring were still present.