How long should you continue a boycott?

by @edent | # # | 29 comments | Read ~551 times.

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?

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

  1. Alex B says:

    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. Alex says:

    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. Andrew McGlashan says:

    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. Neil says:

    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. Fliss says:

    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. Abiatha says:

    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. Kai Hendry says:

    Can't forgive Microsoft when typically around the world when you buy a "PC", you are forced to pay the Microsoft tax. Still happening in 2018.

    When I put this to someone in my twitter stream who seemed to be defending Microsoft, she replied: "So which companies do you trust that don’t do evil things?"

    Is Sony still installing malware? If not, perhaps you can forgive.

  8. Alex (another one) says:

    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. Andrew McGlashan says:

      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.

  9. Its a good question. Either you're intending for them to change, in which case a change of policy, or you're intending to put them out of business?


  10. My irrational feelings about Sony date from before the malware thing, purely because they put a really loud Bond movie trailer on my boss’s new laptop as a screensaver. Far far worse than malware 🙂


  11. Geek says:

    The only argument against is that for a conglomerate the size of “Sony” can it be said that the same lack of ethics found in “Sony Music” would be found in “Sony Electrics” or whatever the part of the company that made a product you might actually want to buy...


  12. And how far down the rabbit hole do you go e.g Sony branded products or anything with a component made by Sony (camera sensors etc)


  13. Good question! I had lots of issues with HSBC 20 years ago and vowed never to go back. I wonder if there's a different length of time if personal grudge vs around an org's practice. Has the leadership fundamentally changed? Have they made reparations? Or an apology?


  14. Jem says:

    I boycott Nestlé and have done for 12 years. I would reconsider my position but they consistently do evil things, year after year. What's Sony's position since 2005, have they changed for the better?


  15. I dont think it's a case of "how long", I think it's "has the company's practice/policy changed?". I stopped buying from Amazon for several years after they showed utter contempt for my deliveries and no willingness to change. I moved, tried them again, and they've been fine.


  16. I also boycott Nestle and can't see that changing while they still behave as they do. I can't imagine forgiving Dyson, Wetherspoons, Warburton's etc just because of the huge amount of damage they've done.


  17. I guess if they have shown they’ve changed then we should reward them


  18. Nope, I've been boycotting Sony ever since they distributed that rootkit of theirs



  19. If you still feel the same, you can hold it as long as that feeling is there. I don’t think there’s a general answer, even if we can of course rationalize on “did they change”, and that might help changing that feeling.


  20. This has been a topic in one of my friend groups after I said I would never return to a nightclub which treated me badly 20 years ago and others were surprised. To me there's no maximum length of time - it's about the company's regret and how much they've changed. Or not.


  21. Matt Hobbs says:

    Never flying Ryanair again. Truly horrendous company with terrible customer support and leadership. Haven't done for over 10 years now.


  22. I had terrible service from LG in about 2000 (TV broke, they collected it, kept it for over a year, no status, refused to refund/replace, rude to me and lied to me on the phone - had to threaten retailer with legal action to get resolved). Haven't bought LG since, for me or work.


  23. Yup, 1ee don't buy anything Nestlé either. Same with P&G, although we have inadvertently ended up with the odd bit as they are getting sneaky at hiding it now when they takeover a brand.



  24. I closed my Barclay’s bank account in 1984 because of their continued support of the South African government and aparthied. I’ve never used one of their services since. Some sins leave an indelible mark.

  25. Tim Hobbs says:

    A company is a collection of people running it on behalf of a collection of other people - shareholders. How many of the top people at 2005 Sony are still there and shaping the company behaviour?

    My Dad had a bad customer service experience with his first car, a Ford Cortina in the early ‘70s. He still says Ford are rubbish and make rubbish cars, based on the poor performance of a dealership that was demolished over a decade ago.

    Would you buy a German washing machine? If you go back a little further we should perhaps not buy anything British either.

    It’s in some ways very irrational and entirely human that we should be so very inconsistent in these punishments. I think it’s often partially based on making ourselves feel better about our own lifestyles too.

  26. How funny, I use Sony PlayStation over Microsoft XBox because I hate Microsoft so much.

    I confess, I think I knew the malware story but I forgot all about it.

    Ethical consumerism is oxymoron, basically.

    (Still, Sony aren't making my job harder like Microsoft are)


  27. I’m probably 30+ years into boycotting nestlé. I’m not entirely sure when it started, probably university in the late 80s. I guess I should look and see if they are still a biz I don’t want to spend my €€ with... but I’ll admit it’s now just a habit I haven’t even considered!


  28. I didn’t order Domino’s for about 20 years after they kept us waiting for several hours with no food, then delivered stone cold pizza. I probably hang on to grudges too long.


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