HP faces state, federal probe on privacy hoax
September 11, 2006
In the weekend before new Congressional and US Justice investigations into its "pretexting" hoax, HP's CEO Mark Hurd said in a company-wide memo he believes "this has nothing to do with the strategy or operations of Hewlett-Packard."
The US Justice Department and US Congress have both asked for information on the relationship between HP and its hired investigation firm, which authorized bogus calls to phone companies to tap reporters records. The HP-funded sweep even raked in the phone records of one reporter's father at News.com, according to one story at that Web site.
A customer may ask what this has to do with the HP 3000 community. That depends on your firm's future relationship with Hewlett-Packard. If a customer is homesteading, there's a good chance HP's misconduct or blunder means little — except to reinforce the ill will some of these customers feel about the vendor. Longtime customers may understand there are two HPs — the boardroom level one that cancelled the system's lifespan at the vendor, and the 3000 division loyalists who still tend to customer needs, even in transition.
As for the migrating 3000 customer, they may be measuring HP's conduct in its response to this error in judgment or ethics, depending on how culpable Congress, the US Justice Dept. and California's Attorney General find your vendor to be. HP is saying it will take appropriate action. Who determines what is appropriate? Those injured by "pretexting" investigators, unleashing a coordinated hoax to get at private records and paid with HP's revenues?
The hoodwinked media companies — the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and News.com — have been like hornets swarming from prodded nest since the revelations. Forgiveness is not automatic in a healthy relationship. It's an outdated belief that a person injured, like these individuals whose phone records got the snoop from HP's prowlers, ought to forgive to move on. Unless HP can admit what it did — in the best light, fund an investigation with a disregard for tactics — then customers and the marketplace don't have to forgive the vendor. Reparations are in order for healthy forgiveness, too.
At the moment, HP's leadership believes this incident has nothing to do with the company's operations. Some media companies might disagree, if the matter of trust and responsibility is an element in a company's operations. If HP hopes to repair the damage and earn back the trust of news gathering organizations, bigger changes than blaming this on their subcontractor are needed.
HP's CEO said in his weekend memo that the company's values include the fact that "We have trust and respect for individuals." He added that "Clearly things have happened here that are unacceptable. But we will not react to speculation. Instead, we will continue to gather and review all the relevant facts. I can assure you we will get to the bottom of this and take appropriate action. HP's values are at the core of this company."
Removal of the HP chairman Patricia Dunn, who launched the probe to quell boardroom leaks, seems to be in order. In a twist of irony, she once worked as a freelance reporter.
HP's board will meet within the hour by phone at 9 PM Eastern, well after the stock markets closed, to discuss how it should respond to the allegations and probes. The company deliberated for three hours yesterday, it said in a statement, without deciding anything.
The Wall Street Journal was quoting "people familiar with the situation" in a Monday story, saying that former director Tom Perkins, something of a Silicon Valley venture capital legend, wanted to rejoin the board and see Dunn ousted. The WSJ also got a Perkins spokesman to say Perkins wouldn't come back to the board, even if asked.
As to the people familiar with such deliberations, the signs point to director George Keyworth, connected to the reporters whose records were rifled. HP must endure Keyworth until next spring, when his term expires, if it doesn't take sharp action.