Apple barred a pay equity channel on Slack—and ensured the conversation went public

The Apple Inc. logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 16, 2019.
The Apple Inc. logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 16, 2019.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Apple has reportedly shut down an attempt by employees to create a Slack channel in which they could discuss pay equity. According to The Verge, the iPhone maker claims that such a channel is against company policy. But in trying to silence a conversation about wage equality, the tech giant has likely only amplified it.

Apple’s employee relations team told staffers that all Slack channels “must advance the work, deliverables, or mission of Apple departments and teams,” The Verge reports. A channel dedicated to conversations about pay equity apparently didn’t meet those qualifications. However, The Verge points out that Apple has plenty of other discussion channels on Slack (including #fun-dogs and #dad-jokes) that don’t exactly seem to adhere to a strict interpretation of the policy. Quartz has reached out to Apple for comment.

Why Apple shut down pay equity surveys

The Slack channel controversy isn’t the first time Apple has been accused of attempting to squelch employee discussions about equal pay. The Verge reported earlier in August that the company also shut down three informal pay surveys that employees had organized in an effort to exchange information and suss out possible disparities along the lines of demographics like race, gender, and disability.

Apple says that its rules bar employees from collecting diversity data for privacy reasons. But the labor lawyers and organizers who spoke with The Verge note that under US law, companies cannot prevent employees from talking with one another about their wages, and that the surveys make it clear that submitting any information about salary or demographics is entirely voluntary.

Apple and the Streisand Effect

Whatever Apple’s reasons for barring the surveys and Slack channel, the company isn’t likely to succeed in preventing employees from sharing information about their salaries. (There are always secret Google spreadsheets, WhatsApp groups, and plenty of other platforms where people can gather undetected to fight income inequality within their own ranks.) Meanwhile, the Cupertino, California-based company is likely to get a firsthand lesson in the Streisand Effect.

The Streisand Effect is a phenomenon named after musical superstar Barbara Streisand, who in 2003, citing privacy concerns, sued a photographer for taking an aerial photo of her mansion. At the time, few people had ever seen the photo. But when news outlets picked up the story of the lawsuit, the photo quickly accumulated over 1 million views.

The lesson of the Streisand Effect is that when powerful people try to keep information from coming out, it often backfires. Apple workers wanting to compare notes on how much they make is pretty par for the course in the age of employee activism. But Apple apparently racing from platform to platform in an effort to prevent employees from exercising their right to discuss salaries? That sounds like the behavior of a company that’s nervous about what workers might discover.