These emails generated — or cost — money to those who sent them

Technology writer Ashlee Vance writes about the eight most expensive email mistakes in corporate history.

In 1971, a computer engineer in Boston sends himself a test email on Arpanet, the precursor to the internet. The ability to send messages long or short in an instant is liberating. It also doesn’t leave much time for the kinds of second thoughts that occur while whiting out typos or walking to a postbox. Here are some of the costliest moments in email history.

From: Apple chief executive Steve Jobs

To: Palm CEO Ed Colligan

Date: 2007

“We must do whatever we can to stop this.”

This line was part of an email exchange among Apple, Google, Palm, Intel and Adobe as they negotiated a moratorium on poaching one another’s employees. In 2014 the damning emails helped lead the companies to try to settle charges of conspiracy to hold down worker wages.

Cost: Pending. Federal judge Lucy Koh struck down the preliminary US$324 million settlement as too stingy.

From: Intel chief executive Paul Otellini

To: Colleague

Date: 2006

“The best friend money can buy.”

Mr Otellini was referring to the Dell founder Michael Dell after the computer maker nixed plans to buy chips from Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices. In 2009 the state of New York accused Intel of bullying customers into using its chips and paying them not to switch to AMD.

Cost: Intel settled the case in 2012 for $6.5m, without admitting wrongdoing.

From: SAP executive Léo Apotheker

To: Colleague Bill McDermott

Date: 2005

“We need to inflict some pain on Oracle.”

In 2005, SAP acquired a company that provided tech support to Oracle customers and downloaded its software and manuals without paying for them. Oracle sued in 2007, alleging that SAP stole its trade secrets.

Cost: In 2014, SAP agreed to pay $357m in damages to settle.

From: BP engineer Brian Morel

To: Colleague Richard Miller

Date: 2010

“This has been a nightmare well which has everyone all over the place.”

This email was sent six days before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform off the coast of Louisiana, showing the operator BP could have done more to prevent the disaster.

Cost: It was among several messages that helped persuade the company to enter into an ongoing settlement topping $28 billion.

From: Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget

To: Colleague Eve Glatt

Date: 2000

“I can’t believe what a POS [piece of s-‍-‍-] that thing is. Shame on me/us for giving them any benefit of the doubt.”

Mr Blodget was talking about Lifeminders, one of the dot-com bubble start-ups that he promoted. An SEC investigation later found he was deriding the companies in private.

Cost: Mr Blodget paid about $4m and was banned from the securities industry. He went on to found the news site Business Insider.

From: Microsoft Windows head Jim Allchin

To: Chairman Bill Gates, chief executive Steve Ballmer

Date: 2004

“I would buy a Mac today if I was not working at Microsoft.”

This email came to light in December 2006, during a Microsoft consumer antitrust trial in Iowa.

Cost: Mr Allchin, already on his way out, stepped down a month later. (Microsoft eventually settled with the state and did not disclose terms.)

From: Scammers

To: You

Date: Today

“My name is Danjuma Sule, one of the sons of major Gen Gumel Danjuma Sule, the late Nigeria’s former minister of mines and power in the regime of the late former Nigeria’s military head of state, Gen Sanni Abacha.”

A typical Nigerian scam email.

Cost: People around the globe lost $9.3bn to this kind of fraud in 2009, according to researcher Ultrascan.

Ashlee Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Palo Alto, California.

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Published: December 7, 2014 04:00 AM


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