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VNU Net: Oracle spied on suspected Microsoft allies

Jun 28, 2000, 17:35 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Leyden)

By John Leyden, VNU Net

Oracle today admitted that it hired a detective agency to investigate research groups it believed were funded by Microsoft during its antitrust trial.

Investigative Group International (IGI) was hired by Oracle to look into the actions of two research bodies - the Independence Institute and the National Taxpayers Union (NTU). However, it is believed that IGI behaved in a somewhat maverick way during its investigations.

In a statement issued today, Oracle said it was trying to uncover ties between the organisations and Microsoft during the antitrust trial. "Oracle discovered that both [bodies] were misrepresenting themselves as independent advocacy groups. In fact, their work was funded by Microsoft for the express purpose of influencing public opinion in favour of Microsoft during its antitrust trial," the statement said.

The move followed reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post of financial links between Microsoft and the groups.

The NTU released a study estimating that public pension funds lost $38.6bn because of the decline in Microsoft's stock. Subsequent to this, the Wall Street Journal reported that the organisation had received more than $200,000 from Microsoft.

"Left undisclosed, these Microsoft front groups could have improperly influenced the outcome of one of the most important cases in US history," said the Oracle statement.

Oracle admitted hiring IGI after newspaper reports alleged that the detective agency had tried to buy rubbish from cleaning staff working at the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT). Rubbish was not specified by Oracle as a target for investigation, and the company declined to comment on alleged reports that two cleaning women at ACT turned down an offer of $1200 for the rubbish.

Oracle has distanced itself from these last allegations and said that although it didn't specify how the investigation should be conducted, it had always insisted that the detectives act within the law.

"When Oracle hired IGI to investigate Microsoft's numerous front organisations, we didn't specify how IGI should go about gathering information. We did, however, insist that whatever methods IGI employed, those methods must be legal," said Oracle.

A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment on the issue, or on Microsoft's relationship with the research groups.

IGI is well known in Washington for its political investigations. It worked for President Bill Clinton investigating his political accusers during the investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

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