How long should you continue a boycott?


In 2005, Sony put malware on their music CDs and then illegally infected customers' machines. I've not purchased a Sony product since. Their new TVs look amazing, but I've decided I don't want to reward a company which behaved so despicably.

Is that sensible? 13 years later and I'm still holding a grudge. Is that healthy? It it useful?

I was reading a discussion on Microsoft aquiring GitHub - one of the commentors didn't understand why so many people were upset by the news, saying:

The idea that some companies must be forever tainted by their misdeads in the past seems odd to me.

I'm sure there's a company who screwed you over personally in the past - whether they messed up an important order, or overcharged you for fries - you've sworn never to do business with them again.

Let's move this to a less rational, more human domain. Would you invite your childhood bully to your wedding? You see a job application from the boss who fired you, do you toss it? The kid who mugged you for your wallet wants to stay in your AirBnB, do you let them?

Humans find forgiveness hard. We have rules on punishment (prison or fines) and rules on forgiveness (parole, spent convictions) - but it doesn't stop us from behaving in a human fashion.

How do you, personally, punish a company? How do you materialise your desire for justice?

In capitalism, the only effective protest you have is to withraw your capital.

Let me be clear; I like capitalism. I'm a landlord, investor, shareholder, and tax payer. But I'm under no illusion that it is a perfect system. It massively favours those with huge capital resources - especially when it comes to changing behaviour.

I get to choose where I spend my money. That is the essense of capitalism. I can choose the cheapest product, or I can choose the more expensive one with the longer lifespan, or I can decide based on the logo, or I can buy the thing which makes me happiest.

Giving money to bad people makes me sad. I don't want to feel sad. So I don't spend my money on people who test their products on animals. I withold capital from organisations which have given me poor service in the past.

Perhaps you don't give money to an organisation which disrespects your religion. Or one which donated to a political cause you find abhorent. That's OK too.

Perhaps Sony has learned its lesson. Perhaps Microsoft really is a friend to Open Source. Perhaps Nestle has stopped promoting its baby formula to vulnerable parents. Perhaps the leopard has changed its spots.

Perhaps not. How long would you wait to be sure?

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9 thoughts on “How long should you continue a boycott?

  1. When I boycott a company, I'm eager to forgive and resume being a customer when they cease the behaviour I objected to in the first place.

    For instance, under Satya Nadella, and no longer being top dog, Microsoft of 2018 isn't the Microsoft of 1997. I think Sony learnt their lesson pretty quickly, but it was an egregious offence.

  2. I agree with the other Alex (no relation). If you punish bad behaviour you should also reward good behaviour. Microsoft has had two CEOs since their monopolistic practices and seem genuine about supporting Open Source.

    I also think the Microsoft boycott has for a long time had a whiff of certain types of geeks trying to signal their hardcore geek credentials and isn’t particularly rational. How many of the never Microsoft people on Twitter were even using IT back in the late 90s?

    From a purely pragmatic point of view they’ve been perfectly fine in owning Xamarin and GitHub was always going to be purchased. I’m more comfortable with a Microsoft ownership than them being bought by Google.

  3. My resolve against the huge, greedy multi-nationals is gaining momentum every time I hear of these buyouts. One of the biggest troubles is that people keep seeing it as a stellar idea to throw money at Microsoft and the like; which enriches them so much that they have too much money to know what to do with it and hence, another fish gets swallowed.

    I haven't used Skype for a long time and will never do so again. My LinkedIn account still exists as a placeholder, but I can see myself removing it -- heck, some bright spark at LinkedIn screwed up my profile, linking my company to a completely unrelated entity (I haven't fixed it, it is a junk placeholder).

    Oh, and Uber, not a chance in hell I'll use them unless I am unable to drive myself and even then I am more likely to walk or use public transport. Uber today has "drivers", but in the future, with self driving cars, it will be money for jam for a few elite individuals whom own Uber and not much for anybody else. The self driving cars will become much less maintenance types as well -- the car will drive itself in, replace a few things like the battery setup and perhaps replace tyres from time to time and just keep on keeping on with less and less human support being required.

    This latest, Github, I hope that (but won't hold my breath), most people are able to see through the Microsoft loves open source lies and it may even be Microsoft against Github users, the same as it has been Oracle against Google (with Java, acquired from the Sun acquisition most likely for the significant purpose of pursuing this goal).

  4. Microsoft are pretending/struggling to appear to be nice because they are the underdog. They’re not being nice, they are a business and are working for the good of their shareholders.
    Embrace, extend, extinguish.

    It won’t be immediate but look out for VSCode and Azure-unique extensions creeping in.

    @Alex the second, interesting you mention Xamarin: Microsoft also acquired Xamarin’s competitor – the java based RoboVM. Guess what they did to that.

    Check out the ‘Lerna’ code stealing debacle. Yes one dev does not a company make but when notified they opted to cover it up.
    What happens when they have all their competitor’s source code?

  5. My husband still has issues with the music thing. But the overall boycott gradually faded.

    He also works for one of the OpenSource companies recently acquired by Microsoft - it’s how we could afford to emigrate - they paid!

    That hasn’t been without its pitfalls. As a layperson I was very sceptical about the buyout and frankly worried he would no longer have a job.

    The opposite has been true for the last 18-24 months. I cannot claim to understand the system and its vagaries (and am, quite frankly tired of being married to an apparent Antichrist but meh) for now it appears to work as a not quite unbiased outsider.

  6. I guess it depends on why you're boycotting. If the company does something you don't like, and an organized boycott attempts to change that, and it works, then the organized boycott will likely end. Some corporate decisions can be reversed, and some can't. I still hold a grudge against Starbucks for destroying the Coffee Connection (a local chain), even though that was more than twenty years ago and I still avoid them. That's an easy choice, though, because their coffee isn't really that good and there's plenty of alternatives.

    It becomes more difficult as corporate power becomes increasingly concentrated and the government loses its will to fight monopolies. Your choices are diminished. Do you shop at Amazon because you love Amazon or because it's the only choice? Personally, I try to shop elsewhere as much as possible. Amazon doesn't have to do anything particularly evil (leaving aside for the moment their questionable labor practices, and other problems), but resisting monopoly power is itself a viable goal.

  7. I started boycotting Nestle in the early 90’s when I learned of their promotion of formula milk to vulnerable parents. If they stop, I’ll buy their stuff again, but I’ve seen no evidence that they have stopped to date. Forgiveness if they change their spots, but if they don’t… then no.

    1. If it is really a fact that Nestle is taking fresh water out of communities and selling as bottled water at huge disadvantage to those communities, then that alone is enough to boycott Nestle foreever.

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