Bloggers Break Sony

Sony made an unpopular product decision and got its reputation incinerated by waves of flaming bloggers. That's a lesson for other companies.
In a E-mail message, Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at security company Sophos, condemned Sony's actions. "Business PC users have a very low opinion of any code that endangers the safety of their networks, and they have sent a loud and clear message to Sony and other companies that this kind of code is unacceptable," he wrote.

Indeed, judging by the online outcry, it's fair to say that PC users in general feel that way.

However, Cluley said that Sony XCP software isn't really comparable to a virus incident in terms of impact. "In many ways it can be argued that it's more similar to Microsoft security vulnerabilities which have later led to a worm infection," he explained via E-mail. "Sony's code wasn't intentionally malicious, but did open up a security hole on users' computers which could be exploited by malware. Rather than malware, I would term this as 'ineptware.'"

Finnish computer security company F-Secure Corporation contends the software is malware because it hides from the user and doesn't offer a way to uninstall itself.

But the company's intellectual property concerns have not disappeared. At a music industry conference in San Diego in August 2005, Recording Industry Association of America CEO Mitch Bainwol presented findings by market research firm NPD Group Inc. that suggested ripping songs--copying them to a computer from a CD--and sharing them has come to represent a revenue threat that's at least as significant as illegal peer-to-peer file trading.

In his presentation, Bainwol noted that the people in the music industry are seen as bad guys rather than the victims they perceive themselves to be. Yet winning the hearts and minds of the blogosphere, and by extension, consumers in general, will require more than marketing as usual.

"There's a whole new set of rules that people have to live by," Scott says. "Whether it's blogs or user groups or NGOs, it's all about honesty and authenticity. This is just the latest painful example of a major company finding that the old tools and the old actions don't work."

Scott's advice to companies is to look for text-mining software, which Factiva happens to make, to help follow what's being said online and then to participate in the conversation honestly. In an example of the sort of transparency called for under the "new rules," Scott admits his advice is self-serving. He says, nonetheless, he believes in what he's selling.

The same might be said for Sony BMG. The company no doubt believes in content protection technology. The trouble is few of its customers do. Either Sony's customers don't know what they're missing or the company is selling something no one wants.

As for participating in the conversation, Sony BMG has a ways to go. Repeated calls to the company's corporate press office for further comment met with the message, "Announcement not recorded. Try again later. Please disconnect."

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