The Year of Sleaze?

What is the matter with our industry? It seems every day the sleaze quotient increases!

Last week I blogged some comments that amused me from Shelby Bonnie, the ex-chief executive of CNet Networks, and George Samenuk, the ex-CEO of McAfee, concerning their "regrets" about the stock option backdating scandals they were responsible for.

In both cases the ex-CEOs acted as if the improprieties were accidents like the printer running out of ink rather than owning up to what must be the truth: that they knew what was going on, because if they didn't know then they would have to be considered totally incompetent as CEOs.

Stock option backdating has been an issue for a long time. Last spring saw the delisting of Mercury Interactive following the resignation of the CEO and two top executives, and in August the CEO and two executives of Comverse Technology were canned and had civil charges filed against them by the Securities and Exchange Commission for exactly this kind of sleazy conniving.

Similar scandals have involved Brocade Communications and Symbol Technologies, and now are starting to surround Apple, Novell and Dell. If you don't understand why stock option backdating is illegal and sleazy you should read "Backdating of Executive Stock Option (ESO) Grants" by Erik Lie of the University of Iowa.

That's all big sleaze. What about the little stuff?

One sleazy thing is a letter from the so-called Domain Registry of America. If you haven't received one when one of your domains is about to expire, you're lucky.

Domain Registry of America combs through the administrative contacts list in every Whois record it can get its hands on (very sleazy) and sends out letters that begin, "As a courtesy [more sleaze] to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification of the domain registrations that are due to expire in the next few months."

Domain Registry of America does make it clear that you will be transferring your registration to it if you use the company to renew your domains, but many people could fail to understand they don't have to use this company. Moreover, the prices it quotes are outrageous: $30 for a one-year renewal and $95 for five years. My registrar, EasyCGI, charges only $10 for one year and $50 for five years!

How about your cell phone bill? I've had several people tell me they've called their cell phone company after finding incorrect charges, and the customer service representative has reversed the items without any complaint.

A suspicious person might think the phone companies do this intentionally, and my experience with Cingular makes me wonder. I changed my son's plan to give him an extra 1,000 text messages per month, which two months later I have discovered hasn't been applied to my bill. The error cost me about $62 extra per month. Now I have to waste time with customer disservice to get this fixed.

And while I'm griping about Cingular, after it acquired AT&T Wireless it did everything it could to get the old AT&T customers to move to Cingular. For example, if you wanted a new phone but your contract hadn't expired, you couldn't get one without transferring to a Cingular plan that usually cost more and or extended your contract period.

Other IT industry sleaze: Spammers come to mind. A lot. And as I wrote about the other day, companies that subscribe you without your permission to their newsletters. The increasing focus on digital rights management, the most useless, anti-consumer technology ever. The government's continuing willful ignorance of computers and networking. The list is a long one.

I'm sure you have your own examples of industry sleaze that I hope you tell me about, but my biggest question is this: Will 2006 be remembered as the Year of Sleaze?


Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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