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H-P Pretexting Scandal Grows – Really Discouraging September 23, 2006

Posted by The PR Cassandra in Posts.

The H-P pretexting story has now turned into a spying scandal – with watched homes, phony personas and spyware that fortunately didn’t work (gosh – I guess they couldn’t find a 16-year old to write the program for them). 

More details are coming out, and Congress has called H-P’s CEO, Mark Hurd, and its lead counsel, Larry Sonsini, to testify.  I guess I’ll have to get a TV for this show down. 

Of course, it doesn’t make me feel better that a bunch of Congress people will get to act all holier than thou, when political shenanagins to me are on the same level as a company’s spying on employees, reporters and even attempting to infiltrate their computers with spyware written specifically to trick a Cnet report into revealing sources — see the story by a Forbes reporter whose family was targeted (“H-P spied on me…and my family”).

Elizabeth Corcoran Elizabeth Corcoran of Forbes – photo by Christain Peacock, Forbes.com

Here are a few excerpts from her article:

“…For us, the story has gone from weirdly funny to downright creepy as more details have emerged. Ultimately, there are going to be quite a few casualties from this hit-and-run demolition of HP’s ethical standards…”

“…As it turns out, the techniques the investigators considered seem unbounded by decency, common sense or even by a budget. Along with scrutinizing phone records, they watched people’s homes and even thought about planting spies disguised as janitors in the offices of The Wall Street Journal and CNET to look for clues…”

According to the Washington Post, and what Elizabeth Corcoran reported in Forbes.com (see link above), this whole affair wold be laughable if it weren’t such an indictment of the lack of any kind of reasonable trust, privacy or, common sense within one of the most respected high tech companies ever. 

Here is a brief excerpt from The Washington Post – you’ve got to read the whole piece:

“HP’s leak investigation involved planting false documents, following HP board members and journalists, watching their homes, and obtaining calling records for hundreds of phone numbers belonging to HP directors, journalists and their spouses, according to a consultant’s report and the e-mails.”

Not to mention, that in my opinion, PR-wise, it has been badly bungled since the first story broke. 

What were some of the errors?  Letting details and decisions trickle out without any kind of seeming outrage from anyone at H-P (maybe too many are compromised).  Spying on journalists and on one’s own PR professionals. 

What have we come to and who the heck do companies think they are?  The Keystone Kops?  Don’t these executives have things they need to do – like go acquire someone or reduce their huge compensation and stop laying off thousands who believed in “The H-P Way?”

Or, is it just about arrogance, power and control?  The new despots and tyrants.  For the parts of Marie Antoinette we have chairwoman, Patricia Dunn, who was finally sacrificed today — and for Robespierre?  Well, that is not yet certain. 

I hope Congress does more than grandstand.  The excesses and greed of Enron, et al, has led to onerous financial reporting, and with the clear message that corporate leaders are on the hook.

Perhaps this scandal – by turns ridiculous and discouraging – will lead to legislation that curbs companies’ abilities to play “I, Spy” and “Mission Impossible” with their own employess and the press who give them the coverage and visibility that leads to great wealth for those at the top.  Although, this seems more to me lke “Get Smart” than “I, Spy.”

I can understand investigating internally when there is a case of theft – but to stop leaks?  Goodness – is this the Watergate scandal for corporate America?  And – NEWS FLASH – WHEN THEY WANT TO, COMPANIES LEAK TO THE PRESS!  Just get over it!  Let your bottom line do the talking for once.

Companies need to really get this – just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.  And, if you don’t like the press you’re getting, this sure as heck isn’t the way to fix that.  The day when companies can control a free press is the day of the end of freedom of expression in America.

If you want your message unadulterated and out there – it’s called advertising.  If you want the benefits that an article from a truly independent and well-respected business or technology journalist can give, then play fair – and learn to take a few hits.

No PR can fix a situation like this.  People have to take responsibility and resign or be fired.  Very strong condemnation is needed.  And, corporate governance that won’t let it happen again.

Wake up, corporate America – continue to act like this and the peasants may actually revolt.



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