Wednesday Grok: Alleged anti-poaching conspiracy looks shabby, shameless and probably very expensive

Also, how to find out who unfriended you on Facebook

Company executives who conspire to manipulate prices are breaking the law. Generally, this involves a company agreeing with competitors to keep prices high. But conspiring to keep prices artificially low, if that's what's happened, may land some of the tech sectors’ biggest firms in very hot java. That's because the price in question is the price of labour.

This week a judge in the US smacked down an attempt by Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, Intuit, Pixar and Lucas Films to dismiss a civil action brought against them for creating an anti-poaching regime. In simple terms, the plaintiffs claim these companies conspired to keep labour costs down via an agreement not to hire each other's staff.

The suggestion is not that they as a group acted like a Star Chamber meeting secretly in darkened rooms, but rather through a series of identical interlocking agreements between individual parties, they effectively created an anti-poaching Web — a sort of unemploying internet if you're the kind of person who likes irony with their conspiracy.

In dismissing the blocking action of the defendants, Judge Lucy Koh said, “It's hard to make the inference there was no conspiracy.” Indeed not. On the contrary, they all seem to have been pretty up front about it. For instance, according to the report in <i>Techcrunch</i> , former Apple CEO Steve Jobs personally wrote to Palm CEO Edward Colligan, suggesting, “We must do whatever we can to stop competitive recruiting efforts between the companies.” To his credit, Colligan sat Jobs back down on his backside, and told the Apple chief, “Your proposal that we agree that neither company will hire the other’s employees, regardless of the individual’s desires, is not only wrong, it is likely illegal.”

Undeterred it seems, Jobs (who of course is no longer around to defend himself) kept on keeping on, and wrote to Google chairman Eric Schmidt to complain about attempts by the search engine giant to hire one of his people. Google adhering to its well documented policy of not being evil, wrote back apologising and promised to sack the recruiter “within the hour” ,according to ZDNet.

The plaintiffs in this case brought their action following a settlement between the Department of Justice and six of the companies in 2010. If the plaintiffs are successful, it opens up the floodgates for potentially tens of thousands of employees to trouser possibly tens of thousands of dollars worth of compensation each.

The defendant’s argument in the current case, that “plaintiffs don’t deserve compensation from companies they never worked for and that their employers didn’t have agreements with just because they were part of the so-called conspiracy.” This strikes Grok as a little too cute. After all, it's hard to make the inference there was no conspiracy. Or, if you like, there's plenty of evidence about why they never worked for those companies. That, after all, is the whole point of an anti-poaching conspiracy.

Grok would love to hear from the Australian subsidiaries of Apple, Adobe, Google, and Intel whether such policies exist or ever existed in Australia and whether they ever received instructions from their corporate betters to implement such a policy. And it might also be interesting to see what the local regulator makes of it all. Yes, that might be quite the lark.

Print. Is. Dead. And it's not alone

The world's largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, is about to take the axe to staff and marketing budgets, in part because it was discovered how cheap marketing channels such as Facebook and Google really are.

<i>Business Insider</i> reports that, “CEO Robert McDonald finally seems to have woken up to the fact that he cannot keep increasing P&G's ad budget forever, regardless of what happens to its sales.”

In a conference call, McDonald told analysts, “In the digital space, with things like Facebook and Google and others, we find that the return on investment of the advertising, when properly designed, when the big idea is there, can be much more efficient.”

For those of you in North Sydney and St Kilda, that dull thud you just heard is the sound of a thousand media buyers collectively fainting.

Find out who has unfriended you on Facebook... the bastar**

Finally, technology that really matters. Ever wanted to find out who amongst your treacherous cohorts thinks so ill of you that they have unfriended you on Facebook? Now you can. Follow this link to . If you are one of the increasingly number of folk on Chrome, it will install natively. If your use Firefox, you will need some assistance from Grease Monkey. And if you still use Internet Explorer, get a Zimmer Frame, Grandpa or Grandma.

Grok ran the script last night and was disappointed (but of course not the least bit surprised) to discover that no one had unfriended him since that glorious July 6 day back in 2007 when he first discovered the joys of sharing the inconsequential dramas of his life with like-minded underemployed colleagues on the World's. Greatest. Website.

Andrew Birmingham is the CEO of Silicon Gully Investments. He has 80 Facebook friends, most of whom, as luck would have it, are actually friends. Most of the rest are other Andrew Birmingham's around the world he acquired in a failed attempt to unleash a new internet meme. Email him or add him as a friend