Another Net Privacy Gaffe

For a company that builds guidance systems for military missiles, Raytheon Co. showed questionable judgment when it aimed a lawsuit at 21 people who posted anonymous messages on a financial Web site operated by Yahoo. In the suit, Raytheon obtained motions demanding that ISPs reveal the identities of their customers. Raytheon drew heavy fire from privacy advocates and even from major newspapers, such as The Boston Globe, which reported that some information that Raytheon was complaining about had already been revealed in public filings.

David Polk, Raytheon’s manager of media relations, says he wasn’t surprised by the spate of bad press but admits that there were some lessons learned. Among them is that corporations should think twice before jumping all over anonymous online critics. Privacy is a very hot button, and the connectedness of Web users makes it easy for them to talk to each other, to the press and to anyone who wants to hear their side of the argument.