Apple accused of monitoring ex-chip designer's text messages

Wait a minute, we thought Apple couldn't read people's texts.

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Apple is suing former chip designer Gerard Williams for taking trade secrets with him to his startup Nuvia after he left in March, according to Bloomberg. In the lawsuit, Apple accuses Williams of "leveraging the very technology the director was working on, and the same teams he was working with, while still employed by Apple."

These kinds of lawsuits happen all the time. The bigger question is: how did Apple obtain the text messages exchanged by Williams that are cited in the lawsuit as evidence of his wrongdoing? Aren't iMessages supposed to be end-to-end encrypted and completely private?

Who is Gerard Williams? — He was one of the lead architects for Apple's custom A-series chips — silicon that reportedly dates back to the A7 chip used in the iPhone 5S. The information he knows about Apple's chip design is especially important to Apple since the custom chips give Apple a major performance advantage over competitors like Qualcomm. Apple's chips are said to be years ahead of the competition.

Williams left Apple in March to co-found Nuvia with two former Apple employees. Nuvia is reportedly using Williams' chip experience to design data center processors that will compete directly with Intel and AMD's own chips.

How did Apple monitor his texts? — Per the lawsuit, Apple cites several text message exchanges between Williams and Apple employees that clearly suggest he was planning to take Apple's chip design secrets to form his own company. The messages are only referred to as "texts."

In Williams' defense, he says: "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."

But how did Apple "monitor" his texts? The filed lawsuit doesn't specify. Were Williams' texts iMessages? If so, aren't they supposed to be end-to-end encrypted and impossible for Apple to view? Did Apple find the messages on his work computer after he left the company? Were the messages standard text messages and, thus, not encrypted and viewable through some invasive monitoring tool? Were the messages exchanged on an internal communications app?

Apple has positioned itself as a company that stands behind privacy and strong encryption. It bought a massive billboard at CES to make its point that "what happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone." If Apple is "monitoring" its own employees' text messages, the company sure doesn't know how to eat its own medicine, does it?