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Apple, Code Name K48 and E-Discovery

by Matthew Nelson on June 22nd, 2011

According to a complaint filed by the U.S. government, the FBI secretly recorded an employee at one of Apple’s suppliers passing confidential information about the soon to be released Apple iPad in an October, 2009 telephone conversation.  The recording, along with other evidence, led to the arrest of the employee and others on charges on of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud on December 16, 2010 as part of a major insider-trading investigation.  In the conversation, a director for Flextronics named Walter Shimoon is heard saying:

“they [Apple] have a code name for something new … It’s … It’s totally … It’s a new category altogether… It doesn’t have a camera, what I figured out. So I speculated that it’s probably a reader. … Something like that. Um, let me tell you, it’s a very secretive program … It’s called K, K48. That’s the internal name. So, you can get, at Apple you can get fired for saying K48.”

Four months later, the first Apple iPad, code named K48, was unveiled to the public.    To read more about the case background, read the press release issued by the U.S. Attorneys’ Office on December 16, 2010.

The case is interesting from an eDiscovery standpoint because it highlights challenges related to finding critical evidence as part of an investigation or lawsuit when people are intentionally using code words to hide information.  Finding or overlooking important documents that have been disguised can make or break your case, so determining whether or not key players are using code words is an important part of a thorough investigation.  Equally important to the investigation is segregating relevant and irrelevant documents quickly before key evidence is lost or destroyed without being required to conduct a painstaking page by page review of each document.

How Does Technology Help?

The good news is that even though technology innovation has resulted in massive data growth requiring the review and analysis of more documentary evidence during lawsuits and investigations, advances in eDiscovery technology have also made sifting through this information faster and easier.  In other words, technology can help solve the data growth problem technology created.

One of the newest advances is the use of “transparent concept search” technology to find important electronic files in lieu of basic “keyword” or “traditional” concept searching technology.  In many situations investigators or lawyers simply aren’t aware code words are being used to hide activity, so critical evidence is often overlooked.  For example, in the present case assume the investigator is unaware that “K48” is the internal code name used for the first iPad.  A simple keyword search for the term “iPad” may not retrieve critical documents about the “iPad” because the code name K48 is being used to disguise the product name.  If this is the only search methodology used, information could easily be overlooked during the investigation due to the limitations of simple keyword search technology.

On the other hand, running the same search using a traditional concept searching tool is likely to retrieve documents containing the word “iPad” as well as other conceptually related documents.  The problem is that the user has no ability to control the breadth of the search using traditional concept searching technology.  That means even though a traditional concept search for the term “iPad” is likely to include documents containing the term “K48” and “iPad,” it is also likely to retrieve a large number of irrelevant documents containing terms like “iPod, iTouch and iTunes that may appear to be conceptually related to the search term “iPad.”  The problem may seem trivial initially, but when investigators are required to read hundreds or thousands of irrelevant documents about the iPod, iTouch or iTunes in an effort to find relevant documents about the iPad, the time and cost of the investigation can skyrocket.

Next Generation Transparent Concept Search Technology

To solve this problem, next generation transparent concept search technology takes traditional concept searching a step further by empowering investigators to reap the advantages of traditional concept searching while actually reducing instead of increasing e-discovery expenses.  The secret is that transparent concept searching technology significantly reduces the time and expense resulting from over-inclusive document retrieval by allowing users to eliminate documents containing concepts that are not relevant to the intended search.  This is accomplished by providing a transparent view of concepts related to a search so that users can actually visualize and select (or deselect) the range of concepts to be included in a search before the search is executed.

For example, using transparent concept search technology to search for the term “iPad” would reveal conceptually related terms like “K48” just like traditional concept searching.  However, a transparent concept search would also provide a list of all concepts related to the keyword “iPad” prior to the search such as “K48, iPod, iTouch, Shimoon, iTunes, etc.  Prior to executing the search, the user could de-select irrelevant concepts and limit the search to “iPad”, “Shimoon”, “internal” and “K48” to make sure only the most relevant documents are retrieved. (See Figure 1).  In addition to decreasing the cost associated with segregating relevant and irrelevant documents, the transparent approach to concept searching results in strategic advantages for investigators and legal teams because the most relevant evidence is found quickly so cases can be assessed faster, with more accuracy, and before evidence disappears.

Figure 1: Transparent concept search reveals all concepts related to the keyword “iPad” so users can not only identify key documents they may have otherwise overlooked, but they can also select which concepts (“internal” “K48” “Shimoon”) to include in the search so only the most relevant documents are retrieved.

Conclusion

Not knowing what to search for as part of eDiscovery or investigations is often the biggest organizational challenge that basic keyword and traditional concept search technology has not been able to solve.  Next generation transparent concept search technology overcomes the inherent limitations of basic keyword and traditional concept searching technology by empowering users to uncover, assess, and review evidence faster and with more accuracy, thereby giving litigators or investigators new strategic advantages on every case.

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