On Wednesday, Ken Glueck, an executive vice president at Oracle, published an astonishing example of hostile public relations strategy―a 2,700-plus word screed decrying reporting by The Intercept’s Mara Hvistendahl as well as soliciting tips about her from random internet users.
Oracle’s long-winded blog is the second such post centered around investigations by Hvistendahl laying out how the company is involved in surveillance systems within China. The first Oracle blog came after Hvistendahl’s story in February mapped out how Oracle marketed its software to Chinese police agencies. Wednesday’s Oracle blog post came after Hvistendahl published a story last week about Oracle doing business with a surveillance tech reseller in China that it named “partner of the year” in 2018.
It is not unusual to see a company deny a story that it thinks is wrong. But usually, these denials are flat and perfunctory. Glueck’s rant is long, full of aspersions and diversions, and mostly seeks to downplay the facts in Hvistendahl’s reporting rather than refute them outright, although Glueck does claim to do this in a few instances. Ultimately, rather than end the blog with a strong denial, Glueck’s point is summed up as: “we are still waiting to see her substantiate her egregious claims against Oracle,” and pointing out that Oracle’s competitors also do similar business in China.
Glueck’s also includes a call-out to anyone on the internet to email him personally “if you have any information about Mara or her reporting,” apparently mocking the kind of request for tips many journalists, including Hvistendahl (and Motherboard), put in their stories.
Even if the callout is facetious in part or in whole, that a massive company would do this in 2021, when all of the issues about online harassment and the dangers of doxing by internet mobs (especially to women and other marginalized groups) are well-known to all, is shocking even in the current reporting environment, when tech companies regularly take hostile stances towards reporters. It’s worth noting that Glueck’s call-out is for information “about Mara or her reporting” (emphasis ours), indicating that personal details are on the table.
In the blog post, Glueck spends an inordinate amount of ink bemoaning bias against Oracle and maligning Hvistendahl while undermining her work with unfounded accusations. He asserts that the report is “so misleading” that she may be “getting half-information fed to her by a competitor,” for example.
While Glueck quibbles over a few points, he does not deny that Oracle named reseller Digital China its “partner of the year” in 2018, nor does he deny that a piece of Oracle tech (and even a staff member) ended up as part of a surveillance contract in China via the reseller. Rather, he points out that the Oracle server in the deal represented $415,000 of a larger $10.2 million project and that the machine Hvistendahl describes as “towering” is under 24 inches tall. He also claims that Hvistendahl ignores its competitors’ activities in China and adds that resellers are common in the US.
In fact, Hvistendahl’s piece states at one point “Oracle is not alone among U.S. tech companies in its reliance on resellers in China.” Hvistendahl goes on to add that “For decades, the tech giants have used brokers to provide needed connections to Chinese businesses and government officials.”
When reached for comment by Motherboard, Hvistendahl sent the following statement:
“Ken Glueck has published two lengthy blog posts attacking me and my editor, Ryan Tate. But Oracle has not refuted my central finding, which is that the company marketed its analytics software for use by police in China. Oracle also hasn’t refuted our reporting on Oracle’s sale and marketing of its analytics software to police elsewhere in the world. We found evidence of Oracle selling or marketing analytics software to police in Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, and the UAE. In Brazil, my colleague Tatiana Dias uncovered police contracts between Oracle and Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously corrupt Civil Police.
With both of my stories, The Intercept published a contact box seeking tips from people with knowledge of Oracle’s work in China and elsewhere. But a journalist asking for information about a major tech company is different from a tech company asking for information about the journalist who is investigating it.”
In the postscript to the blog, Gleuck also repeats Sinophobic Silicon Valley propaganda when reminding readers of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s “stern warning that there will be a national emergency should China overtake the US in AI,” and admonishes Google for not staying true to that prediction because it “seems less interested in supporting the US government.”
Ultimately, Glueck’s blog is just the latest example of corporate executives disingenuously taking reporting on their companies’ activities as personal attacks and returning fire.
Oracle did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
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