How I Learned Ex-Apple Execs Run a Secretive Home Security Tech Company
I only learned about a secretive home security technology company, full of ex-Apple executives & employees, after Apple's security goons apparently broke into my apartment several times via that tech.
This article analyzes a secretive home security company run by ex-Apple executives and producing products created by mostly ex-Apple employees. The article also provides background on why I started looking into all of this & why I care. If you’re short on time & only interested in learning about the findings, please skip down to “The Latch App” section.
How I Found Myself with Digital Locks
From the fall of 2020 to summer of 2021, I had lived around Land’s End in San Francisco. The commute down to Silicon Valley took forever, so with remote work and remote school, I rarely ventured down there that year. Then, my law school abruptly announced it would only have in person classes starting August 2021, so I frantically found a new home near the school while still stuck paying overlapping rent (about $8,000/month total for nearly two months).
On August 4 2021, my prior employer, Apple, unexpectedly placed me on indefinite paid administrative leave, the day before I was scheduled to move back down to Santa Clara.
By that time, I had already faced nearly a year of creepy behavior by my ex-landlord, Irvine Company. During the fall of 2020, I had discovered the apartment I moved into in February 2020 was built on a significant amount of toxic waste, and that toxic waste was the only explanation for bizarre health issues that debilitated me shortly after moving in & vanished as soon as I moved out. I had reported Irvine Company to the government, talked to the press, and even wrote my own article about the experience.
There was concerning behavior by the landlord, the richest property developer in the United States, as soon as I raised concerns – but it escalated further following my article, including with private investigators showing up at my new San Francisco apartment. At that time, my professors, friends, and even my Apple Senior Director had warned me to take safety precautions – including home security system, weapons, surveillance prevention, and other ways to protect myself. I had installed many locks & a home surveillance system at my apartment in San Francisco.
On August 5th, following months of retaliation and a hostile work environment at Apple, I was also now afraid of my employer as well - a vindictive computer manufacturer who had been acting aggressively and erratically for months.
A Digital Panopticon
Due to the rush in finding a new home, I had only toured the new apartment virtually via a video call, not in person. When I arrived in person on August 5th, I was shocked to find my leasing office agent was opening common doors, and even the door to my new apartment, with an app on their phone. My apartment door not only had a digital lock – but it also had no deadbolt.
The property manager explained to me that all of the doors in this large apartment complex use digital locks that can be opened either with a phone app or with a digital code. They also told me that if anyone tried to use a digital code to enter my door, but entered it incorrectly, the door lock would take a photo of that person. They also said common doors, like to pick up packages or access the pool, also had these digital locks. The app settings allowed to unlock doors without even unlocking your phone, simply by holding the phone “near’ the lock (and even using NFC technology).
After everything I had gone through already, I immediately protested and requested a “real lock” and a deadbolt. I contacted the property manager expressing my concerns about retaliation by my employer and the necessity for good home security. On August 4th, press coverage of my suspension was weirdly framed as retaliation for posting on Twitter with accusations of “sexism,” which not only omitted the work place safety & labor concerns, but also made me a target for harassment from those who enjoy perpetrating sexism. I was sincerely concerned about harassment from nearby Silicon Valley tech bros after the global coverage of the “sexism” Twitter posts, in addition to everything else.
To make matters worse, all of the doors in my apartment complex had these digital locks and the associated cameras. To me, someone now very concerned about surveillance, this was an attack vector to potentially surveil my every move around the apartment complex in real time. Further, I had just gone out of my way to deactivate all of my cloud services & removed all of my luxury surveillance gadgets from my home (HomePods, Eve cameras, etc).
I wanted a real lock and I did not want a cloud-based camera on my front door. Also, all of our doors also faced other doors in the hallways, so I was also on my neighbors cameras. I wanted privacy - but my property manager refused. Further, they said, because my apartment door is metal, I cannot install my own deadbolt either.
I mentioned my concerns about the door to the police while reporting another matter, and they recommended a deadbolt I can install into the door frame itself. I found these were very expensive, but I felt it necessary, so I purchased two at $50.00 each and used them whenever I was home. I would later learn these were a false sense of security as last spring I caught an attempted break-in while I was home, where the perpetrator was apparently using magnets to lift & unlock the deadbolt from the outside.
The deadbolts also did nothing when I was not home. Thus, a whistleblower already subject to surveillance was now at the mercy of anyone who had administrator access to the product or could hack the product securing their home front door.
As someone who worked in software engineering for a decade, I also immediately thought about logging. These locks must be logging whenever I enter & leave, and the records were on the cloud, so whoever could access the company’s databases could know, in real time, whenever I entered or left, and also extrapolate my routine.
I did not leave my house much from August 2021 until I left California in August 2022.
I was swamped dealing with Apple’s retaliation, my whistleblower cases, law school, and everything else. I was also hemorrhaging my hard earned savings to pay rent and tuition with no income for a year – so moving again seemed off the table.
When I was home, I barricaded my door and I set up a “potty area” for my small dog on our porch.
Apple appears to have gotten creative at times to get me out of the house.
As it turned out, I was right to be concerned.
I would face attempted and successful home break-ins, into my apartment and even the attic above my apartment where someone installed unknown electronic equipment around the time Apple fired me. I’d also find what appeared to be listening devices in my apartment.
Multiple police reports and FBI complaints were filed.
This should be its own article, so more on all of that later, but it became very clear by the time I was moving out that whoever was breaking into my apartment and likely my neighbor’s apartment to access my attic, was doing so through the digital Latch locks.
The “Latch” App
Last May, I started taking a hard look at the company who makes the locks on my doors (“Latch”). The catalyst for investigation wasn’t actually concerns about someone hacking my locks (thought I was still worried about that), it was discovering the lock’s cameras were apparently taking secret photos of tenants whenever they accessed common areas.
I was looking for something in the app on my phone and stumbled across the photos. I immediately felt violated & deeply concerned these photos were being taken & stored without our knowledge or express consent.
In fact, we were never informed that our photos would be taken by the common area cameras at all, but those cameras were indeed taking photos of us every time we accessed any common area and storing them on Latch’s servers.
What shocked me the most, was the remarkable similarity in the user interface to an internal Apple app called “Gobbler” (later renamed to “Glimmer” after outcry that the biometrics training app was being referred to as the “Face Gobbler”).
I had helped expose the app to the public in August 2021. I escalated the issue due to my concerns about Apple’s unlawful surveillance of employees & coerced biometrics harvesting from its workforce, as well as Apple’s normalized employee intimidation and censorship tactics. I’ve continued to push for legal & policy reform around this kind of behavior by employers, and Apple specifically.
Apple denied they fired me for reporting unsafe work conditions, unfair labor practices, and other issues to the government. Apple would claim they fired me for exposing Gobbler & also talking about their (already publicly known) mass scanning of employee’s ears & ear canals.
It’s become clear to me that Apple doesn’t actually care about privacy. Apple was willing to publicly state they fired me because I exposed their invasions of employee privacy.
As you can imagine, after all of that, I was very distressed to see such a similar UI in this Latch “lock” app as well as even more secret photos taken of me without my knowledge.
After discovering all of this, the first questions that came to my mind were: who is Latch and are they connected to Apple? When I investigate questions like this, I generally hope that I’m off base & it’s not as bad as it seems it might be. However, here, it was worse than I ever imagined.
Who is Latch?
I started my inquiry with: who is in charge?
The Latch website lists Luke Schoenfelder as the CEO & Co-Founder. Before founding Latch, Mister Schoenfelder spent four years in Apple’s Government Affairs team (a lobbying group) working on “privacy.” Before that, he was working with the Clinton Foundation in Haiti. (If the Clinton Foundation also sounds familiar with my story - yeah, it is. One can probably assume he knows Lisa Jackson through the Clintons and/or working for her at Apple.)
Okay, so that’s only one ex-Apple employee founder.
It’s not like the other co-founder was also ex-Apple too…
Thomas Meyerhoffer is the other co-founder of Latch, and he is listed as a prior “senior designer at Apple.”
Well, that must all of them, I thought. Because otherwise, this “Latch” company is going to start looking like it’s basically an informal Apple subsidiary.
Oh, but there’s more…
Latch’s Product & Engineering Chief of Staff spent eight years as a Manager at Apple
Latch’s VP of Engineering spent four years at Apple as a senior Engineering Manager
Latch’s Director of Talent Management spent nearly six years as a General Manager at Apple
Latch’s Director of Product Technology spent seven years at Apple as a Core OS Software Engineer
Latch’s Chief Marketing Officer spent three years at Apple as the Global Head of Content & Lifestyle Strategy
Latch’s Director of Engineering spent nearly five years at Apple as a Firmware Engineering Manager
A Staff Firmware Engineer at Latch spent nearly nine years prior at Apple as a Firmware Engineer & EPM
Latch’s SVP of Engineering & Product Design spent nearly five years at Apple as a Senior Product Design Engineer
Latch’s Senior Manager of Firmware Quality spent over ten years at Apple as a HID Firmware Engineering Manager
One of Latch’s Senior Staff Software Engineers had spent four years at Apple as a Manufacturing Firmware Engineer before returning to Apple this year as a System Debug Engineer
Latch’s VP of Quality & Engineering Services spent nine years at Apple as a Core OS Senior Manager
Latch’s SVP of Partnerships spent eight years at Apple as a Senior Director of Product Development & Corporate Strategy
And so on…
Okay, so Latch is basically Apple. Latch is led by a prior Apple lobbyist, & staffed from top to bottom with ex-Apple workers.
At first I thought, I guess this might just be weird for me, but its not like this quiet little company called Latch is easily found in apartments across the country…
A Latch press release in March 2022 stated:
“Latch makes spaces better places to live, work, and visit through a system of software, devices, and services. More than one in ten new apartments in the U.S. are currently being built with Latch products, serving customers in more than 43 states through its flagship full-building operating system, LatchOS.”
Latch was founded in 2014 but was in “stealth mode” until 2016, then went public in 2021 at which point it was already valued at $1,500,000,000 ($1.5B).
More than one in ten new apartments in the US are being built with Latch. 10% of new apartments in the United States! With $1.5B funding! That’s an enormous amount of digital locks & secret little cameras.
Google’s Nest & Amazon’s Ring are in the media constantly with mass surveillance & security concerns. So how do we not hear about Latch at all?
I would guess it’s because it’s so closely tied to Apple, a company notorious for controlling media coverage & keeping a lid on concerns, internal & external.
For me personally, all of this assured me that there was a reasonable chance that Apple’s Global Security goons were able to use & access data related to my Latch door locks & cameras as they were harassing me in Silicon Valley. Whether they had consent from Latch execs, or back-channeled it with Latch security, they probably took advantage of the opportunity.
This also assured me my knee-jerk reaction of “THIS LOOKS A LOT LIKE GOBBLER!” may have been spot on. It may have been as simple as Apple engineers who developed or used Gobbler modeling this new app after what they already knew - but the connection was there.
But this is much broader than me. I think we all need be concerned about the normalization of mass surveillance through unnecessary home gadgets that can be so easily exploited. Further, I think we need to keep a closer eye on these companies and connect the dots of who is running and funding what, as all of this seems to be a seven-headed-hydra from the same core players.
Latch is something we all need to start caring about, just as with Nest & Ring. With 10% of apartments using Latch door locks & cameras, that means you’ve probably been caught on Latch cameras already, whether you know it or not.
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