The electric rail that HP touched

If you walk along the BART tracks (Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco’s version of mass transit electric-driven trains) you’ll see a big fence, covered with barbed wire, along with lots of signs that make it clear that if you cross the fence you’ll die. Why?

The electric rail.

It’s not lost on me that when I worked at Microsoft there were a few issues that people would tell me not to touch cause they’d cause trouble for me. How did that get communicated to me? “That’s an electric rail.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that electric rail metaphor today and why I am giving HP such harsh treatment. Privacy is an electric rail.

Let me explain. Big companies rely on our private data to make money. Verizon knows where and when I use my cell phone so it can charge me. At Microsoft if you attended the PDC you had to put your name and address and credit card number into the system so we could charge you and get you your ticket. At health care organizations they know even more detailed private information. And so on and so forth. Big companies have a lot of our data locked up in their data centers.

So, why did I care that HP’s board of directors pushed the boundary of where private information could be used? Because private data must be held sacrosanct. Private data is an electric rail. Use it properly and it will power your business. Use it improperly and you should get fired. There’s no other way to put it. It should be that clear. It IS an electric rail.

This is why I’m giving HP’s board of directors such a hard time (and will continue to do so). They touched the electric rail. You just can’t do that without severe consequences.

Note: the electric rail doesn’t care if you have a reason to touch it. You touch it, you pay severe consequences. Why does that need to be true? So no other company thinks of touching it in the future. 

68 thoughts on “The electric rail that HP touched

  1. Companies must safeguard sensitive information of employees, customers, suppliers, etc. In this digital age, there must be swift and severe punishment for offending parties, make an example for others to fear.

    We know that IT integrity and enterprise security is cursory, it’s a low priority at most companies. Good example is the tolerance of dangerous, dubious, and dumb user behavior, from some misguided sense of fostering good “morale”.

    Companies allow sloppiness, especially in areas where the CEO and top executives are clueless. Nothing less than a corporate revolution can correct this and other problems.

    Now the vision is the decision.

  2. Companies must safeguard sensitive information of employees, customers, suppliers, etc. In this digital age, there must be swift and severe punishment for offending parties, make an example for others to fear.

    We know that IT integrity and enterprise security is cursory, it’s a low priority at most companies. Good example is the tolerance of dangerous, dubious, and dumb user behavior, from some misguided sense of fostering good “morale”.

    Companies allow sloppiness, especially in areas where the CEO and top executives are clueless. Nothing less than a corporate revolution can correct this and other problems.

    Now the vision is the decision.

  3. Shades of ex-president Nixon – “who, me? I didn’t know they were going to something illegal to get info!” Look where it got him! Fruit from a tainted tree is always poisonous, whether or not the consumer of the fruit knows where it came from.

  4. Shades of ex-president Nixon – “who, me? I didn’t know they were going to something illegal to get info!” Look where it got him! Fruit from a tainted tree is always poisonous, whether or not the consumer of the fruit knows where it came from.

  5. I think that Dunn needs to go — now! Today’s message of her keeping control of the HP board thru January but then Mark Hurd taking over shows that the bucks stops …….. well, okay, not sure where *that* buck stops. Shuffle the chairs, switch the titles and it’s business as usual. They’re of the opinion of it’s a “no harm, no foul”. Although clearly they’re wrong times two.

    But just how easy is it to “pre-text” a phone company? No outrage there? I can’t change my address for my wireless phone without providing a DNA sample, a letter from my mother and a personal appearance from my priest — after I’m told they can’t change the address online or on the phone; in store only. But somehow a person with limited knowledge of me can easily get my records? Hmmmmm?

  6. I think that Dunn needs to go — now! Today’s message of her keeping control of the HP board thru January but then Mark Hurd taking over shows that the bucks stops …….. well, okay, not sure where *that* buck stops. Shuffle the chairs, switch the titles and it’s business as usual. They’re of the opinion of it’s a “no harm, no foul”. Although clearly they’re wrong times two.

    But just how easy is it to “pre-text” a phone company? No outrage there? I can’t change my address for my wireless phone without providing a DNA sample, a letter from my mother and a personal appearance from my priest — after I’m told they can’t change the address online or on the phone; in store only. But somehow a person with limited knowledge of me can easily get my records? Hmmmmm?

  7. Yeah!!! I completely agree. The end does NOT justify the means and Patrica Dunn and anyone in HPs legal department who participated in this need to be fired. It should be a third rail. And IMHO it will prove to be.

  8. Yeah!!! I completely agree. The end does NOT justify the means and Patrica Dunn and anyone in HPs legal department who participated in this need to be fired. It should be a third rail. And IMHO it will prove to be.

  9. Speaking of “third rails”, MSNBC reached a new nadir recently. I was scrolling a page with the mousewheel, and it brought a frickin’ Flash ad under the cursor. The ad decided that gave it permission to start playing sound (loudly) about “ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION”. Can you picture your computer doing that in a crowded room? When web pages start bleating ads at me that I haven’t clicked on, that’s when I stop going to that web site.

  10. Speaking of “third rails”, MSNBC reached a new nadir recently. I was scrolling a page with the mousewheel, and it brought a frickin’ Flash ad under the cursor. The ad decided that gave it permission to start playing sound (loudly) about “ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION”. Can you picture your computer doing that in a crowded room? When web pages start bleating ads at me that I haven’t clicked on, that’s when I stop going to that web site.

  11. @22: If you don’t like it, don’t use it.
    What is free software? Does someone work free to make it? Will you be willing to leave your job and start writing free code?

  12. @22: If you don’t like it, don’t use it.
    What is free software? Does someone work free to make it? Will you be willing to leave your job and start writing free code?

  13. second life: has anyone at second life broken any laws? Please explain why you think I should be up in arms about my privacy on Second Life.

    nmb: A friend said that the stock price is going up because investors are already getting excited about getting a new board in place.

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