WikiLeaks has created another firestorm with its latest document dump, this time covering tons of diplomatic files concerning international relations.
Corporate American now needs to brace itself as well – WikiLeaks is gearing up for massive document dumps involving a major US bank, revealing thousands of pages of corporate secrets. More document dumps from other corporations will follow. Forbes reports on the story along with an interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Early next year, Julian Assange says, a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out. Tens of thousands of its internal documents will be exposed on Wikileaks.org with no polite requests for executives’ response or other forewarnings. The data dump will lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.
When? Which bank? What documents? Cagey as always, Assange won’t say, so his claim is impossible to verify. But he has always followed through on his threats. Sitting for a rare interview in a London garden flat on a rainy November day, he compares what he is ready to unleash to the damning e-mails that poured out of the Enron trial: a comprehensive vivisection of corporate bad behavior. “You could call it the ecosystem of corruption,” he says, refusing to characterize the coming release in more detail. “But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest.”
Admire Assange or revile him, he is the prophet of a coming age of involuntary transparency. Having exposed military misconduct on a grand scale, he is now gunning for corporate America. Does Assange have unpublished, damaging documents on pharmaceutical companies? Yes, he says. Finance? Yes, many more than the single bank scandal we’ve been discussing. Energy? Plenty, on everything from BP to an Albanian oil firm that he says attempted to sabotage its competitors’ wells. Like informational IEDs, these damaging revelations can be detonated at will.
He jokes with the writer about calling these mega document dumps “megaleaks.”
The most interesting thing is this notion of “involuntary transparency.” In a time when huge corporations are amassing an incredible amount of power, Assange may have found the great equalizer. Corporations are generally amoral, and many of its executives are immoral, so now we the public will get a window into the workings of a company that blows past the carefully crafted public image. Can you imagine the frenzy this will create in the PR department of these companies?
General Motors had a very successful IPO last week, and the Obama administration is taking justified credit for bailing out GM instead of letting it die in a forced liquidation in bankruptcy.
It’s hard to argue here with success. The administration took a huge amount of grief for this decision, and it clearly hurt the President and the Democrats in the midterms, but this was the right decision. The auto industry is thriving, and we avoided a death spiral in the auto industry and the supplier base that would have occurred under a forced liquidation.
Playboy has reported another quarterly loss, making things tough for Hugh Hefner in his bid to keep control of the company. He’s currently in a battle as the company is being pursued by well-funded buyers.
The latest figures come as the company’s future ownership remains in doubt. FriendFinder Networks, owner of Playboy rival Penthouse magazine and adult websites, wants to buy the company for $210 million. It raised $551 million in debt at the end of last month, a move that could give it the cash to follow through on the bid.
But Hefner, who owns 70% of the company’s voting stock, says he has no interest in selling. And he has proposed to the company’s board that he buy out the remaining stake in a deal that would value Playboy at about $185 million. A special committee of the company’s directors is considering the offer.
In the meantime, Playboy’s management is trying to transform the company from a publishing and TV business into a “brand management” company, leaning more on revenue from licensing out the Playboy name and bunny ears for a range of products.
FriendFinder seems serious here with all that cash. It will be interesting to see what other properties they pursue in this space.