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Did Apple's Product Secrecy Cause a Suicide at Foxconn?

Sun Danyong was a Foxconn China employee until last Thursday, when, after apparently being responsible for the loss of an Apple prototype device, he committed suicide. Is Apple's ferocious product secrecy to blame for his death?

Sun Danyong

The story, which was brought to light by Eric Eldon at VentureBeat, runs like this: Sun was a young engineering graduate working at Foxconn on product communications. As part of his job he took possession of sixteen Apple device prototypes, due to be shipped to Apple for further testing. Shortly after doing this, he discovered one of the devices was missing and, unable to find it, he alerted his company. On Wednesday night three Foxconn employees allegedly searched his apartment, which is apparently illegal under Chinese law. There are rumors—possibly untrue—that during this procedure they also harassed Sun. Sometime around 3 A.M. on Thursday Sun leaped to his death from his apartment window.

It's a tragic tale, and there's much that remains unclear—as you may expect. The leading speculation is that Apple's intense product security, designed to keep future products under wraps right until launch, also affects its suppliers, and Foxconn took the loss of the prototype very seriously. Under the pressure of the mistake, and presumably in fear of losing his job in a disgraceful manner, Sun apparently cracked and took his own life.

Is Apple to blame for this? Of course it isn't...but it's an accusation you'll hear leveled all over the Web. There are two factors to think about: Apple's product security, and how Foxconn handled its employee. As far as the first is concerned, Apple's level of secrecy doesn't compare a jot to that which millions of employees of defense companies the world over endure. It may all sound very cloak and dagger, and it's clearly part of Apple's business mojo—designed so that innovative products really make a big splash when they hit the marketplace—but it's not when you consider the secrecy which wraps employees of companies that build missiles, do secret military research or work in the nuclear weapons industry. As far as Foxconn is concerned, we don't know all the facts yet. It's alleged the company treated its employe poorly, but in a previous example where a young assembly-line girl's photo was discovered on a new iPhone, the company went out of its way to assure the public the girl's job wasn't at risk. Sun's full motives may never be understood, and they could easily be deeply personal. It's just a tragic affair.

There's one more thing to think about though: What were those Apple prototypes? The word on the Web is that they're fourth-gen iPhones, and that's certainly possible since Apple's undoubtedly deep in the design phase of a successor device. But to have prototypes rolling off a production line this early is pretty interesting, and could suggest they weren't iPhones at all. Could it be the rumored new camera- and microphone-equipped iPod Touch? Or possibly the fabled Apple Tablet? This last would certainly have serious levels of Apple secrecy associated with it.

[via Venturebeat]

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