Sony’s rootkit woes tip of the reputation iceberg

Mainstream music publisher Sony BMG is getting hammered left, right and center as fall-out continues over Sony’s rootkit debacle.

The rootkit in question was a spyware-like application encoded onto certain copy-protected music CDs that Sony sold in the US and which did some “ET phone home” type of activities from your computer without you knowing if you played one of those CDs on your PC. It also introduced significant security risks on that PC.

There is actually quite a bit more to it than that – Mark Russinovich has a detailed explanation of what a rootkit is and what this particular one was all about.

In the end, Sony BMG capitulated in the face of a rising groundswell of vocal and highly-critical comment on their behaviour – including from many bloggers – and they issued a fix for the rootkit and recalled the affected CDs.

But it’s getting worse for Sony BMG.

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a class action lawsuit against the music publisher, “demanding that the company repair the damage done by the First4Internet XCP and SunnComm MediaMax software it included on over 24 million music CDs.” There’s even been a call for a boycott of Sony products.

Sony has clearly mis-handled this crisis. They originally denied that the rootkit posed any kind of threat, even arrogantly claiming in a radio interview, “Most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?”

So much for this company caring about its customers and their concerns.

Whatever backpedalling Sony BMG is now doing, it is customers’ perceptions of the company that is the damaging issue. This could turn out to be a bit like the Dell Hell story in the sense that whenever you see a Sony-branded product, you might think twice about buying it, asking yourself, “Do I now trust any product from this company?”

There are bigger issues at stake here, too, regarding digital rights management in the music industry as a whole, as this BBC feature explains.

In any event, the communicators at Sony BMG have quite a job on their hands.

5 thoughts on “Sony’s rootkit woes tip of the reputation iceberg

  1. You’re exactly right, Neville, and well-stated too. I’ve always loved Sony as a gadget company, but their approach to managing the future and their miserable attempts at market communications have just been terrible for years. I really can foresee a day when Sony will just be a memory for all of us…

  2. You could be right, Dave. Even though this is to do with Sony BMG, all anyone really sees is the name ‘Sony.’
    I don’t think this story will die down anytime soon. If anything, it will get bigger as it embraces the bigger story, ie, the rights of copyright owners vs. the rights of consumers, and how on earth to strike a balance with DRM where everyone’s happy.
    So that places an even greater challenge on Sony.

  3. Sony Hell, as the Rootkit Scandal Continues

    For the first time a company hits both ends of the spectrum on this blog. After praising the Bravia LCD advert I now have to spill my venomous thoughts on the rootkit saga that has been plaguing Sony BMG this month.
    I neglected to mention that the a…

  4. My faith is shook enough by the fact that the umbrella company “Sony” would let such a prime spot in one of its subsidiaries be occupied by someone with such blatant and open disregard for customers rights and online safety.
    That is enough to make me wary for the very long term.

  5. That’s a good point, Dan. It was the president of Sony BMG global business who made the comment in the radio interview I mentioned. A very senior executive.
    So maybe Sony BMG might reshuffle some exeuctives as part of what they need to do to grasp their nettle.

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