Apple And Jobs: The Privacy Debate Begins In Earnest

Iphone 4: Steve Jobs Chatting via FaceTime

Steve Jobs’ announcement about his medical leave of absence — and its decided lack of detail about the reason for it — has very quickly segued into a debate over whether his privacy should be respected, or whether Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) should be giving more detail about his condition because investors have a right to know more.

The conversation is being played out on sites like Twitter, where people are weighing in on both sides of the argument (typical examples here and here).

And it’s being played out on the blogs, where some are taking Jobs’ words to heart to respect his privacy, while others — not knowing the actual details or reasons for the current leave — are reproducing passages from medical sites about the complications related to liver transplants (a liver transplant being the reason for Jobs’ leave in 2009).

But this is not the first time that Apple’s reticence about Jobs’ medical condition has been scrutinized.

In 2009, the SEC launched an inquiry into whether Jobs and Apple’s board had misled investors when, in January 2009, he had told them he had a hormonal imbalance, only to update that information nine days later with a medical leave of absence until June 2009. That investigation never seemed to develop, and some speculated that the file was quietly closed.

By all accounts Jobs’ impact at Apple is enormous. But it’s also worth noting that the last time Jobs took medical leave, the company managed to carry on — and in fact went on to launch a new product, the iPhone 3GS, which sold 1 million devices in its first opening weekend (a record only surpassed by the launch of the iPhone 4).

Jobs says he will keep in touch and remain involved in “major strategic decisions” at the company during his leave. Tomorrow’s earnings call will give Apple, and Tim Cook, a chance to demonstrate to investors and Apple users that they will be able to do the rest, for the time being.

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