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The Plot to Steal the Secret Coke Can

Jun 21, 2023

The metal of this can has been dissolved, leaving behind the microns-thin liner.

Shannon You was a good chemist, a bad colleague—and a thief. When she tried to use the $120 million technology she stole, she got played.

Drake Bennett and

Jordan Robertson

Subscriber Benefit


On the evening of Aug. 8, 2017, Shannon You badged out of the Atlanta headquarters of the Coca-Cola Co. for one of the last times. Coke was struggling to retain its perch atop the world beverage market, as once-loyal consumers migrated to brands that evoked wilderness aquifers or herbal healing or masochistic sports workouts—not fizzy fun and mass culture. The new chief executive officer's plan involved a restructuring. Twelve hundred employees would be let go, and You, a chemist in her mid-50s, had been informed several weeks earlier that she was among them.

Anytime a company lays someone off, there's a possibility the person will take something with them. Coke, holder of the world's most famous trade secret, was particularly attuned to that risk. It had an intelligence-bureau-style classification scheme, like other corporations that deal in proprietary information, and it had software that tracked employees’ data use. That summer, as more and more employees learned they were leaving, the data loss prevention system began to ripple with alerts. "To say that that activity blew up the DLP system" would be "a bit of an understatement," a Coke information security manager later testified. Much of that activity resulted from employees reclaiming personal files they’d stored on their work computers—tax returns, kids’ school projects, bank loan information. But not all of it did.