Don Melton writes, from first hand experience about the stupid rumor about Apple assigning engineers to fake projects in order to test their loyalty. Needless to say, the idea is stupid for many reasons:
... That’s not even duplicated effort. That’s completely superfluous work. When you have a focus on efficiency like Apple, why would you waste time and resources doing that?
Apple is also known for having very high standards when it comes to hiring. And it’s clear that those candidates who make it through the interview process, are offered a job, and finally accept employment — well, those folks really want to be at Apple.
It’s also common knowledge that Apple keeps what they’re working on a secret until it’s unveiled to the public. There are very explicit rules for employees ...
... Now, if Apple is going to screen candidates so thoroughly and then explain the rules to them so carefully after they’re hired, what is the point of an additional loyalty test?
None. It’s a stupid idea. Not only stupid, it’s insulting to the person you just hired. And basically an excellent way to demotivate the person you invested so much time in finding.
Although it's probably a complete waste of time trying to determine the origin of crazy myths like this, I think I can see where this one might have gotten started.
Apple is well known for having a lot of secret R&D projects. These projects may stretch on for years before they become products, or they may be canceled without ever becoming a product. For example, R&D for the iPad began 8 years before it shipped. And work on an Intel version of Mac OS X began in 2000 even though it wasn't announced until 2005.
So what do you think happens when an engineer is assigned to some such early-phase R&D project, works on it for a few years, and then leaves the company and doesn't see any products related to his work several years after that? He assumes he must have been working on a fake project - after all, any other company would make a point of shipping something after years of development work. No company would sit on great technology for a decade without shipping a product, right? Well, maybe no other company would, but Apple has, and they have done so many times.