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I Spy a Scandal 

Silicon Valley stalwart Hewlett-Packard is reeling, under investigation for invading the privacy of journalists and its own board members. Do you see a way out for the computing giant?

Wednesday, Sep 13 2006
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer last week opened an investigation into Hewlett-Packard, charging that its inquiry into press leaks of confidential information violated the privacy rights of board members and journalists. The Palo Alto computing giant's chairwoman, Patricia Dunn, who was a freelance journalist before becoming one of the most powerful female executives in America, ordered the outside probe of HP's board of directors to find out who anonymously leaked details about the travails of former CEO Carly Fiorina. The investigators impersonated reporters and board members to get detailed logs of home and cellular phone calls, a tactic known as "pretexting," which pushed the boundaries of legality in California. Although Dunn claims she had no knowledge of the investigators' tricks on her own board members, HP is scrambling to contain the damage and convince shareholders that chaos doesn't reign behind closed doors. Are you an apologist for Hewlett-Packard? Take our quiz and find out.

1) In announcing his investigation into the methods Hewlett-Packard used to gather information on its board members and reporters, California Attorney General Lockyer repeatedly emphasized that he did not know which laws had been broken, but was determined to find out. Which one of the following quotes from Lockyer fills you with the most confidence about his ability to get to the bottom of the scandal?

A) "I don't know if it's illegal, but I'm sure it's colossally stupid."

B) "A crime has been committed ... the question is by whom."

C) "At least, it's a dumb thing to do."

2) In an extreme example of "pretexting," HP's investigators posed as the directors and reporters targeted in the probe, in some cases using Social Security numbers to fool phone companies into turning over lists of personal calls. What do you think of this practice?

A) It's a craven, amoral, and outrageous invasion of privacy. Doesn't Hewlett-Packard know that this is why we have MySpace?

B) Who were these "outside investigators"? I just can't believe a private eye would stoop to such things.

C) "Uh, hi, AT&T? Yeah, this is Bill Lockyer. Listen, can you give me a detailed log of all the phone calls I've made about this whole HP thing during the past few weeks? Right, just go ahead and send them to HP headquarters — I'll pick them up there."

3) All but one of the nine reporters targeted by HP's pretexting have been identified, and the news organizations include Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, CNET's, and the New York Times. Are you surprised by the audacity of HP's probe?

A) Hmm ... which of those news organizations is not like the other? Oh, hello,!

B) Yeah, but when you're snooping on CNET, you've got bigger problems than pretexting.

C) So who was the ninth reporter? I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Bob Novak, because it's just not a summer scandal without his direct involvement.

4) Even before the privacy scandal erupted, Fiorina's tenure as head of the company was controversial. As the first outsider to run the company since its founding in 1938, she clashed with then-board member Walter Hewlett, son of the company's co-founder, over her push to acquire Compaq. She then had to cut 18,000 jobs in the new company. What do you think of Fiorina's legacy?

A) She'll have a nice second career ahead of her at the National Security Agency.

B) Oh, let's be fair. Someone had to acquire Compaq.

C) Isn't she working on a book for this fall? Let's hope she hasn't finished it yet!

5) Defending herself to reporters over the weekend, Dunn said she had no clue about the investigators using pretexting methods to obtain information, and declared: "This was not my spy campaign on our board." Do you believe her claims of ignorance?

A) Well, she certainly seems ignorant.

B) And just how did she find out about all this? By pretexting the pretexters?

C) Of course I believe her. Do you really think the chairwoman of a company like Hewlett-Packard has time to attend to little details like snooping on her board members? She has Microsoft to lose to, for God's sake.

6) Although HP's stock has held relatively steady in the days following the explosion of the scandal, analysts are dumbfounded by the morass the company now finds itself in. "As long as this confusion and disorder continues, no self-respecting professional will want to work for Hewlett-Packard," said Gary Lutin, a New York investment banker. What do you think HP should do to limit the damage?

A) Free iPods for everyone!

B) Rename itself "Sony."

C) Why change? As long as HP continues to churn out mid-range computing products that invariably crap out six months before a Dell would, the brand is secure.

7) Given that a computer company was invading the privacy of its own board members, how concerned are you about the safety of your information?

A) Hey, snoop away all you want, I have nothing to hide. The Domino's number is in the phone book, after all.

B) This is exactly why I bury my old phone records in my backyard.

C) Are you kidding? I couldn't be safer — I've got all my sensitive personal files backed up on my Hewlett-Packard!

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: I just can't believe Larry Ellison didn't think of this first.

7-10 points: We know, we know. And Carly Fiorina looked so trustworthy.

11-14 points: Congratulations! You're a true apologist for Hewlett-Packard. Some more Kool-Aid, Mr. Fiorina?

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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