Fear, uncertainty and doubt

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Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic of rhetoric used in sales, marketing, public relations[1][2], and illiberal democracies. FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative (and vague) information. An individual firm, for example, might use FUD to invite unfavorable opinions and speculation about a competitor’s product; to increase the general estimation of switching costs among current customers; or to maintain leverage over a current business partner who could potentially become a rival.

The term originated to describe disinformation tactics in the computer hardware industry and has since been used more broadly.[3] FUD is a manifestation of the appeal to fear.



[edit] Definition

FUD was first defined by Gene Amdahl after he left IBM to found his own company, Amdahl Corp.: “FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products.”[4] The term has also been attributed to veteran Morgan Stanley computer analyst Ulrich Weil, though it had already been used in other contexts as far back as the 1920s.[5][6]

As Eric S. Raymond writes:[7]

The idea, of course, was to persuade buyers to go with safe IBM gear rather than with competitors’ equipment. This implicit coercion was traditionally accomplished by promising that Good Things would happen to people who stuck with IBM, but Dark Shadows loomed over the future of competitors’ equipment or software. After 1991 the term has become generalized to refer to any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon.

By spreading questionable information about the drawbacks of less well known products, an established company can discourage decision-makers from choosing those products over its wares, regardless of the relative technical merits. This is a recognized phenomenon, epitomized by the traditional axiom of purchasing agents that “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment”. The result is that many companies’ IT departments buy software that they know to be technically inferior because upper management is more likely to recognize the brand.

[edit] Contemporary examples

Although once it was usually attributed to IBM, in the 1990s and later the term became most often associated with industry giant Microsoft. Said Roger Irwin:[8]

Microsoft soon picked up the art of FUD from IBM, and throughout the 80’s used FUD as a primary marketing tool, much as IBM had in the previous decade. They ended up out FUD-ding IBM themselves during the OS2 vs Win3.1 years.

Although the Halloween documents (leaked internal Microsoft documents ) say that OSS is long-term credible … [therefore] FUD tactics cannot be used to combat it.”[9], in fact Open source (OSS) and the GNU/Linux community in particular are widely perceived as frequent targets of Microsoft FUD:

  • Statements about the “viral nature”[10] of the GNU General Public License (GPL),
  • Statements that “…Linux infringes 235 Microsoft’s patents…” before software patent law precedents were established. [11]

[edit] SCO vs. IBM

The SCO Group‘s 2003 lawsuit against IBM, claiming $5 billion in intellectual property infringements by the free software community, is an example of FUD. IBM argued in its counterclaim, that SCO is spreading “fear, uncertainty, and doubt”.[12]

Magistrate Judge Wells wrote (and Judge Kimball concurred) in her order limiting SCO’s claims: “The court finds SCO’s arguments unpersuasive. SCO’s arguments are akin to SCO telling IBM, ‘sorry we are not going to tell you what you did wrong because you already know…’ SCO was required to disclose in detail what it feels IBM misappropriated… the court finds it inexcusable that SCO is… not placing all the details on the table. Certainly if an individual were stopped and accused of shoplifting after walking out of Neiman Marcus they would expect to be eventually told what they allegedly stole. It would be absurd for an officer to tell the accused that ‘you know what you stole I’m not telling.’ Or, to simply hand the accused individual a catalog of Neiman Marcus’ entire inventory and say ‘it’s in there somewhere, you figure it out.’ “[13]

Darl McBride, President and CEO of SCO made the following statements as part of what was felt by many in the Linux user community[who?] to be a FUD campaign.

  1. “IBM has taken our valuable trade secrets and given them away to Linux,”
  2. “We’re finding… cases where there is line-by-line code in the Linux kernel that is matching up to our UnixWare code”
  3. “…unless more companies start licensing SCO’s property… [SCO] may also sue Linus Torvalds… for patent infringement.”
  4. “Both companies [IBM and Red Hat] have shifted liability to the customer and then taunted us to sue them.”
  5. “We have the ability to go to users with lawsuits and we will if we have to, “It would be within SCO Group’s rights to order every copy of AIX [IBM’s proprietary UNIX] destroyed,”
  6. “As of Friday, June 13 [2003], we will be done trying to talk to IBM, and we will be talking directly to its customers and going in and auditing them. IBM no longer has the authority to sell or distribute AIX and customers no longer have the right to use AIX software”
  7. “If you just drag this out in a typical litigation path, where it takes years and years to settle anything, and in the meantime you have all this uncertainty clouding over the market…”
  8. “Users are running systems that have basically pirated software inside, or stolen software inside of their systems, they have liability.”[14]

The campaign evidently worked, as SCO stock skyrocketed from under $3 a share to over $20 in a matter of weeks in 2003. (It later dropped to around[15] $1.20—then crashed to under 50 cents on August 13, 2007 in the aftermath of a ruling that Novell owns the UNIX copyrights). [16]

[edit] Information Security Uses

“..Warnings about some flaw or exploit opening the door for a catastrophic Internet-ending event are never followed by the big doom. On the other side of the spectrum, the epidemic of data security breaches shows that all the FUD and security spending in the world can’t prevent the bad guys from punching through. The recent Hannaford supermarkets breach proves you can respond to the fear and spend a lot of money on new technology and still get whacked.

And so my parting advice in this space is to take the FUD with a grain of salt and remember that while cyberspace is a dangerous place and you’ll sometimes have to raise your level of alertness, most enterprises will survive with the proper mix of security tools, policies and a calm awareness of the risks…”

Source, Bill Brenner, signing off letter from SearchSecurity@lists.techtarget.com



[edit] Non-computer uses

Main article: appeal to fear

FUD is now often used in non-computer contexts with the same meaning. For example, in politics one side can accuse the other of using FUD to obscure the issues. For example, critics of George W. Bush accused Bush’s supporters, most notably the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, of using a FUD-based campaign in the 2004 U.S. presidential election.[17]

According to some commentators, examples of political FUD are: “domino theory,” “electronic Pearl Harbor,” and “weapons of mass destruction[18]


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