Since laws requiring the public disclosure of information by government agencies have been extended to corporations, it seems that even trade secrets have to be disclosed. A class action suit has been brought against Apple, claiming that keeping their source code proprietary is “prejudicial to customers and shareholders” and could even be illegal.
“By not joining Microsoft and Google’s open source initiatives, Apple is restricting its ability to compete in the market,” claimed lawyer Arun Gopal. “Besides, I’m a customer too,” he grinned, brandishing his iPhone Pro, “and I want to run Android on my phone.” Apple’s notorious lock on its operating systems and apps have kept third parties at bay for decades.
It started in Britain, when members of parliament were called to task for not disclosing their personal expenses, and pretty soon CEOs across the globe were being asked uncomfortable questions – like how they selected their advisors, and what all those ‘consulting fees’ really meant. It wasn’t long before acceptable corporate disclosure ran much deeper than financial information, and started to impinge on trade secrets.
The trend for transparency – in government, business and relationships – has become so well established, you can find out anything about anyone. Just ask Google or Bing.
In fact, now that information democracy has become a reality, information has no value – it’s what you do with it that counts. But trying to keep information out of public hands has almost become a crime. And people want Apple to mend its ways; or pay the price.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
The curse of information democracy
Transparency and openness in a global networked society is inevitable. Not only is it morally desirable, it leads to greater efficiencies and more optimal allocation of resources.
And those companies that resist it will be punished by the marketplace.
Governments and hard-liners have learned that the connected world will expose the truth – often in real time. Twitter, Facebook and Skype have made individuals all-powerful when it comes to disseminating information that some would rather keep buried. And online price comparisons make the idea of gouging ill-informed consumers a laughable anachronism. Smartphone applications make checking a product’s pricing or green credentials a simple in-store process.
Wikipedia, Google books and online libraries make ‘all the world’s knowledge’ available to anyone with a broadband connection – even on a mobile phone.
So what’s the point of trying to exploit ‘superior information’? Anyone can find out how to make bio-diesel or the price of platinum. Not everyone can sustainably execute a strategy based on that knowledge. Which is where competition is increasingly playing itself out.
When everyone knows everything they need to know – or where to get that knowledge – then intangible things like service efficiency or a unique experience become more valuable than a secret recipe.
Some companies, like Apple, may choose to remain ‘opaque’. How long the market will tolerate that approach remains to be seen.