Merger between HP and Big Brother?

Hewlett-Packard’s deceptive practices are not limited to their outrageous figure-slimming cameras! Apparently HP feels that what happens in the boardroom should stay in the boardroom. So vehemently that in order to investigate leaks, HP resorted to questionable techniques to obtain phone records, contacted journalists under false pretense, and mulled the possibility of undercover operations involving clerical or cleaning staff.

It took a bit of searching to decipher just what was leaked, but here’s a Cliff’s notes version of a Salon.com article on the matter: Once upon a time, then-CEO and Chairwoman Carly Fiorina was instrumental in swaying the rest of the board to acquire Compaq. Except for one small hold-out, Walter Hewlett, son of HP founder. HP bought Compaq for $19 billion, politics ensued, and Hewlett left. Fast forward 2005, when behind closed doors, HP’s board was unhappy with the results and fired Fiorina. Word of the divided board was leaked to the news, and HP began an investigation to determine the source of the leak.

Phone records were a logical place to start. A New York Times report finds that “In addition to Hewlett-Packard directors, nine journalists and two employees, those whose phone records were obtained included Larry W. Sonsini, the outside counsel”. The report cites an e-mail exchange on the matter: “How does [private detective] Ron get cell and home phone records?” asks Kevin Hunsaker, HP’s chief ethics officer. “We use pretext interviews” answers Anthony Gentilucci, manager of HP’s global investigations. That’s a sexy way of saying that they lied to the phone company.

And the plot thickens – The Washington Post uncovers ficticious character “Jacob”, created by our heroes Hunsaker and Gentilucci to contact CNET.com employee Dawn Kawamoto. The idea was to that Kawamoto would forward Jacob’s juicy e-mail back to an HP employee, where they could identify the leak. When initial contact revealed Kawamoto’s upcoming vacation, the dynamic duo was already aware that she “made numerous calls to Disneyland”.

The New York Times report even mentions “Feasibility studies” regarding “undercover operations (clerical) in CNET and WSJ offices in SF bureaus”. While they didn’t find evidence that action was taken on these studies, it’s scary to hear about a well-known corporation engaging in any of this cloak-and-dagger activity.

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