Sony Spygate a PR fiasco

Sony BMG faces two lawsuits over the use of software programs loaded onto music CDs. The suits allege that when these CDs are played on multimedia-PCs, they secretly install
Steve Rosenbush

Sony BMG faces two lawsuits over the use of software programs loaded onto music CDs. The suits allege that when these CDs are played on multimedia-PCs, they secretly install "spyware" programs that track activity on the computer. The allegations by computer expert Mark Russinovich led to two suits, one by the Texas attorney general, another by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Sony's handling of the Spygate controversy has inflamed its critics. It's an example of poor crisis management. Did it really think its effort to recast the issue as one of "inconvenience" would work? The company dismissed the allegations at first. That made its critics maddder. And it expanded the target on Sony's back by creating more issues for discussion. A text that creates more questions than it answers may be fine if you're studying literary theory at the Sorbonne. But it wasn't a good way to strengthen Sony's position.

Sony eventually issued a statement addressing the problem, but it was too slick for its own good. The company said it deeply regretted any "inconvenience" it may have caused its customers. It was a weak attempt to recast the conversation, which is about issues far more serious than a mere matter of convenience. Finally, the company blithely reminded consumers that the issues only effect consumers who play the discs on PCs. The company suggested that people who play the discs on CD players have nothing to worry about. By attempting to spin the Spygate affair as an inconvenience that matters to a minority of customers, Sony has sidestepped true issues of Internet security and privacy, inflamed its critics and made a bad problem just a bit worse than it already was.

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