Corporate Surveillance HOWTO

Feature written by James Baughn on Tuesday, July 11, 2000

from the public-relations-is-everything dept.

Back in the old days, many businessmen believed the saying, "The customer is always right." The rules have changed since then. Nowadays, the customer is a potential enemy, capable of spreading truthful information about your company at the speed of light.

The truth is the last thing any large corporation wants the public to know. You only want your supplicants to be exposed to the pravda that's been sifted and churned through your public relations department and then properly spun, slanted, and buzzword-enhanced. Anything less could be spell disaster for your bottom line.

In this HOWTO, we provide some guidelines for how you, the corporate executive, can put a stop to disgruntled truth-spreading customers.

Now you could use some service like eWatch to track down your enemies and "re-educate" them. But they want an outrageous amount to cleanse the truth spread by each "screenname". But why pay all that money for somebody else to use a search engine and then fire off a couple bark letters? Save your precious Venture Capital for some more worthwhile project, such as installing a fifth pool table in the game room next to the bowling alley. (But don't ever consider improving your product or customer service; that's just like throwing money away.)

You might consider striking a deal with a government agency that employs wiretapping, email sniffing, or other Echelon-like surveillance activities. This shouldn't be too difficult; every government body from the FBI down to the Boondock County Trash-Pickup Authority practice espionage on their own citizens. Just make a few well-placed bribes, and you'll be able to tap into their taxpayer-funded spy network to track your enemies.

On the other hand, cozying up to the Feds might be overkill for your purposes. Armed with a search engine, you might be able to do the dirty work yourself. Indeed, you might hit paydirt just by browsing the typical hangouts for anti-corporate truth-mongers, such as Slashdot, Yahoo message boards, Usenet, or humor sites. Once you've tracked down the little twerp, then it's time for action.

Have your legal department send them some threatening letter (email or snail mail) about how they are violating your intellectual property rights and, if they persist, they could face immediate jailtime. Your crafty lawyers will be able to conjure up something; it doesn't have to be true, just as long as your enemy falls for it.

You might not be able to locate their email address, though. Especially if it's one Mr. Anonymous Coward, the nefarious yet untrackable Slashdot denizen who has a beef against every company in existence. Many corporate spies have spent countless man-hours tracking down this mega-disgruntled customer, but to no avail. Your only recourse might be to employ an Astroturf campaign to neutralize AnonCow by posting lots of positive hype-filled comments about your company.

If you are unable to uncover the identity of your enemies, you can always buy a court judge into issuing a subpeona forcing the website owners to fork over their server logs. It worked against Yahoo, after all. The logs will tell you, among other things, the twerp's IP number. You can then cross-reference this datum against the FBI's sorta-secret Echelon database to reveal the Social Security number, postal address, shoe size, DNA sequence, fingerprint, and PGP private key of your enemy.

With that information in hand, you can then step up the pressure:

  1. Contact their employers. Tell the boss that your targets are emotionally unbalanced and need to be fired immediately before they cause any irreperable PR damage. After all, if they are capable of spreading unauthorized information about your company, then surely they could snap at any time and distribute truths about their own employer.

  2. If they maintain their own website that has information critical of your company, then send a nice little threatening letter to their ISP. As before, have your lawyers fill it with obtuse legalese and vague references to the "DMCA" while making veiled threats of lawsuits or imprisonment unless the unauthorized material is immediately deleted.

  3. Don't forget about hired goons. Ever since the early 1900's, usage of hired thugs has dropped off, which means that many businesses are missing out on this wonderful tool. Goons, when hired through an anonymous third party, are a wonderful way to scare the living daylights out of your truth-spreaders since the stooges can't be traced back to you. Of course, which type of hired thugs you choose (muscle-building gun-slinging athletes or briefcase-pushing fast-talking lawyers) is entirely up to you.

  4. Offer to hire them at your company. This might sound absurd, but it could work as a last result. Everybody has a price -- even the most ardent Linux zealot would gleefully become a Microsoft employee if enough money were waved in his face. And once these people are assimilated (and re-educated) into your corporate culture, they shouldn't present any more trouble. For instance, if some low-budget humor site keeps poking fun at your company by way of sarcastic HOWTO guides, you could always co-opt the webmaster with a load of money and stock options, and he'll never give you any trouble again.

The promotional materials for the eWatch monitoring and re-education service state that, "It is unfortunate that companies are being targeted by entities whose motives are fraudulent, deceptive, or criminal." (In other words, people who publish unauthorized criticisms of your company on the Internet, a medium which was intended by its founders as the exclusive domain of large corporations).

But armed with the suggestions in this HOWTO, you and your company's legal department should be able to effectively stamp out this menace once and for all, thus ensuring that everything said about your company in public has been pre-approved by your marketing department.

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