Fear, uncertainty and doubt

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Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic used in sales, marketing, public relations,[1][2] politics and propaganda.

FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information. An individual firm, for example, might use FUD to invite unfavorable opinions and speculation about a competitor's product; to increase the general estimation of switching costs among current customers; or to maintain leverage over a current business partner who could potentially become a rival.

The term originated to describe disinformation tactics in the computer hardware industry[dubious ] but has since been used more broadly.[3] FUD is a manifestation of the appeal to fear.


The term appeared in other contexts as far back as the 1920s.[4][5] A similar formulation "doubts fears and uncertainties" reaches back to 1965.[6] By 1975, the term was already appearing abbreviated as FUD in marketing and sales contexts:[7]

FUD was first defined with its specific current meaning by Gene Amdahl the same year, 1975, after he left IBM to found his own company, Amdahl Corp.: "FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products."[8] The term has also been attributed to veteran Morgan Stanley computer analyst Ulrich Weil. As Eric S. Raymond writes:[9]

By spreading questionable information about the drawbacks of less well known products, an established company can discourage decision-makers from choosing those products over its own, regardless of the relative technical merits. This is a recognized phenomenon, epitomized by the traditional axiom of purchasing agents that "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment". The result is that many companies' IT departments buy software that they know to be technically inferior because upper management is more likely to recognize the brand.[citation needed]

Contemporary examples[edit]


Although originally associated with IBM, from the 1990s on the term became most often associated with software industry giant Microsoft. Roger Irwin said:[10]

In 1996, Caldera, Inc. accused Microsoft of several anti-competitive practises, including issuing vaporware announcements, creating FUD, and excluding competitors from participating in beta-test programs in order to destroy competition in the DOS market.[11][12] One of the claims was related to having modified Windows 3.1 so that it would not run on DR DOS 6.0 although there were no technical reasons for it not to work.[11][13] This was caused by the so called AARD code, some encrypted piece of code, which had been found in a number of Microsoft programs. The code would fake nonsensical error messages if run on DR DOS, like:[14][15]

If the user chose to press C, Windows would continue to run on DR DOS without problems. While it had been already speculated in the industry that the purpose of this code was to create doubts about DR DOS' compatibility and thereby destroy the product's reputation,[14][15] internal Microsoft memos published as part of the United States v. Microsoft antitrust case later revealed that the specific focus of these tests was in fact DR DOS:[16] At one point, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates sent a memo to a number of employees, reading

Microsoft Senior Vice President Brad Silverberg later sent another memo, stating:

In 2000, Microsoft settled the lawsuit out-of-court for an undisclosed sum, which in 2009 was revealed to be $280m.[18]

At around the same time frame, the leaked internal Microsoft "Halloween documents" stated "OSS [Open Source Software] is long-term credible... [therefore] FUD tactics cannot be used to combat it."[19] Open source software, and the GNU/Linux community in particular, are widely perceived as frequent targets of Microsoft FUD:

SCO v. IBM[edit]

Main article: SCO v. IBM

The SCO Group's 2003 lawsuit against IBM, funded by Microsoft, claiming $5 billion in intellectual property infringements by the free software community, is an example of FUD. IBM argued in its counterclaim that SCO is spreading "fear, uncertainty, and doubt".[25]

Magistrate Judge Wells wrote (and Judge Kimball concurred) in her order limiting SCO's claims: "The court finds SCO’s arguments unpersuasive. SCO’s arguments are akin to SCO telling IBM, 'sorry we are not going to tell you what you did wrong because you already know...' SCO was required to disclose in detail what it feels IBM misappropriated... the court finds it inexcusable that SCO is... not placing all the details on the table. Certainly if an individual were stopped and accused of shoplifting after walking out of Neiman Marcus they would expect to be eventually told what they allegedly stole. It would be absurd for an officer to tell the accused that 'you know what you stole I’m not telling.' Or, to simply hand the accused individual a catalog of Neiman Marcus’ entire inventory and say 'it’s in there somewhere, you figure it out.' "[26]

Regarding the matter, Darl McBride, President and CEO of SCO, made the following statements:

  1. "IBM has taken our valuable trade secrets and given them away to Linux,"
  2. "We're finding... cases where there is line-by-line code in the Linux kernel that is matching up to our UnixWare code"
  3. "...unless more companies start licensing SCO's property... [SCO] may also sue Linus Torvalds... for patent infringement."
  4. "Both companies [IBM and Red Hat] have shifted liability to the customer and then taunted us to sue them."
  5. "We have the ability to go to users with lawsuits and we will if we have to, “It would be within SCO Group's rights to order every copy of AIX [IBM's proprietary UNIX] destroyed,"
  6. "As of Friday, June 13 [2003], we will be done trying to talk to IBM, and we will be talking directly to its customers and going in and auditing them. IBM no longer has the authority to sell or distribute IBM AIX and customers no longer have the right to use AIX software"
  7. "If you just drag this out in a typical litigation path, where it takes years and years to settle anything, and in the meantime you have all this uncertainty clouding over the market..."
  8. "Users are running systems that have basically pirated software inside, or stolen software inside of their systems, they have liability."[27]

SCO stock skyrocketed from under $3 a share to over $20 in a matter of weeks in 2003. (It later dropped to around[28] $1.20—then crashed to under 50 cents on August 13, 2007, in the aftermath of a ruling that Novell owns the UNIX copyrights). [29]


Apple's claim that iPhone jailbreaking could potentially allow hackers to crash cell phone towers was described by von Lohmann, a representative of the EFF, as a "kind of theoretical threat...more FUD than truth”.[30]

Security industry and profession[edit]

FUD is also widely recognized as a tactic used to promote the sale or implementation of security products and measures. While there are many true security threats and breaches, it is possible to find pages describing purely artificial problems. Such pages frequently contain links to the demonstrating source code that does not point to any valid location and sometimes even links that "will execute malicious code on your machine regardless of current security software", leading to pages without any executable code.

The drawback to the FUD tactic in this context is that, when the stated or implied threats fail to materialize over time, the customer or decision-maker frequently reacts by withdrawing budgeting or support from future security initiatives.[31]

Non-computer uses[edit]

Main article: Appeal to fear

2004 U.S. Presidential Election[edit]

FUD is now often used in non-computer contexts with the same meaning. For example, in politics one side can accuse the other of using FUD to obscure the issues. For example, critics of George W. Bush accused Bush's supporters, most notably the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, of using a FUD-based campaign in the 2004 U.S. presidential election.[32]


The FUD tactic was used by Caltex Australia in 2003. According to an internal memo, which was subsequently leaked, they wished to use FUD to destabilise franchisee confidence, and thus get a better deal for Caltex. This memo was used as an example of unconscionable behaviour in a Senate inquiry. Senior management claimed that it was contrary to and did not reflect company principles.[33][34][35]


More recently, Clorox was the subject of both consumer and industry criticism for advertising its GreenWorks line of allegedly environmentally friendly cleaning products using the slogan, "Finally, Green Works."[36] The slogan implied both that "green" products manufactured by other companies which had been available to consumers prior to the introduction of Clorox's GreenWorks line had all been ineffective, and also that the new GreenWorks line was at least as effective as Clorox's existing product lines. The intention of this slogan and the associated advertising campaign has been interpreted as appealing to consumers' fears that products from companies with less brand recognition are less trustworthy or effective. Critics also pointed out that, despite its representation of GreenWorks products as "green" in the sense of being less harmful to the environment and/or consumers using them, the products contain a number of ingredients advocates of natural products have long campaigned against the use of in household products due to toxicity to humans or their environment.[37] All three implicit claims have been disputed, and some of their elements disproven, by environmental groups, consumer-protection groups, and the industry self-regulatory Better Business Bureau.[38]

Food Babe[edit]

Vani Hari, also known on her blog as the "Food Babe", was called "the FUD Babe" by British skeptical blogger Guy Chapman due to the questionable nature of her advice.[39]

Further reading[edit]

According to some commentators, examples of political FUD are: "domino theory", "electronic Pearl Harbor",[40][41] and "weapons of mass destruction".[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harris, Rhonda (1998). The Complete Sales Letter Book. Armonk: Sharpe Professional. ISBN 0-7656-0083-8. 
  2. ^ The term FUD is also alternatively rendered as "Fear Uncertainty and Disinformation". See e.g., Jansen, Erin (2002). Netlingo. Ojai.: NetLingo. ISBN 0-9706396-7-8.  p. 179
  3. ^ For example, FUD has been used to describe social dynamics in contexts where sales, lobbying or commercial promotion is not involved.Elliott, Gail (2003). School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse. Philadelphia: Brunner–Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94551-8. 
  4. ^ "Suspicion has no place in our interchanges; it is a shield for ignorance, a sign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt." Caesar Augustus Yarbrough, The Roman Catholic Church Challenged, p. 75. The Patriotic Societies of Macon, 1920.
  5. ^ "Again he was caught in a tempest of fear, uncertainty, and doubt." Monica Mary Gardner, The Patriot Novelist of Poland, Henryk Sienkiewicz, p. 71. J.M. Dent ; E.P. Dutton & Co, 1926.
  6. ^ "This will give unspeakable comfort peace and satisfaction to his Mind, and set him not only out of danger and free him from an ill state, but out of all doubts fears and uncertainties in his thoughts about it; ..." William Payne, A practical discourse of repentance, rectifying the mistakes about it, especially such as lead either to despair or presumption: ..., p. 557. S. Smith, 1965.
  7. ^ "Clothes, Volume 10, Issues 14-24", Clothes (PRADS, Inc.) 10 (14-24): 19, retrieved June 10, 2011 
  8. ^ Gene Amdahl, quoted in Eric S. Raymond, The Jargon File: FUD".
  9. ^ Eric S. Raymond, "The Jargon File: FUD".
  10. ^ Irwin, Roger (1998). "What is FUD". Retrieved 2006-12-30. 
  11. ^ a b c d Susman, Stephen D.; Eskridge III, Charles R.; Southwick, James T.; Susman, Harry P.; Folse III, Parker C.; Palumbo, Ralph H.; Harris, Matt; McCune, Phil; Engel, Lynn M.; Hill, Stephen J.; Tibbitts, Ryan E. (April 1999). "In the United States District Court - District of Utah, Central Division - Caldera, Inc. vs. Microsoft Corporation - Consolidated statement of facts in support of its responses to motions for summary judgement by Microsoft Corporation - Case No. 2:96CV 0645B" (Court document). Caldera Inc. Archived from the original on March 1999. Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  12. ^ Susman, Stephen D.; Eskridge III, Charles R.; Susman, Harry P.; Southwick, James T.; Folse III, Parker C.; Borchers, Timothy K.; Palumbo, Ralph H.; Harris, Matthew R.; Engel, Lynn M.; McCune, Philip S.; Locker, Lawrence C.; Wheeler, Max D.; Hill, Stephen J.; Tibbitts, Ryan E. (May 1999). "In the United States District Court - District of Utah, Central Division - Caldera, Inc. vs. Microsoft Corporation - Case No. 2:96CV 0645B - Caldera, Inc.'s Memorandum in opposition to defendant's motion for partial Summary Judgement on plaintiff's "Technological Tying" claim" (Court document). Caldera Inc. Archived from the original on 1999-05. Retrieved 2013-10-05.  Check date values in: |archivedate= (help)
  13. ^ Ball, Lyle (1999-04-28). "Caldera submits evidence to counter Microsoft's motions for partial summary judgement" (Press release). Caldera, Inc. Archived from the original on 1999-05. Retrieved 2013-10-05.  Check date values in: |archivedate= (help)
  14. ^ a b c Schulman, Andrew (September 1993). "Examining the Windows AARD Detection Code - A serious message--and the code that produced it". Dr. Dobbs Journal. Archived from the original on 2005-12-10. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  15. ^ a b c Schulman, Andrew; Brown, Ralf; Maxey, David; Michels, Raymond J.; Kyle, Jim (1994). Undocumented DOS - A programmer's guide to reserved MS-DOS functions and data structures - expanded to include MS-DOS 6, Novell DOS and Windows 3.1 (2 ed.). Addison Wesley. p. 11. ISBN 0-201-63287-X. ISBN 978-0-201-63287-3. 
  16. ^ Lea, Graham (1999-11-05). "How MS played the incompatibility card against DR-DOS - Real bear-traps, and spurious errors". The Register. Retrieved 2013-09-26. 
  17. ^ a b Goodin, Dan (1999-04-28). "Microsoft emails focus on DR-DOS threat". CNET News. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  18. ^ "Exhibits to Microsoft's Cross Motion for Summary Judgement in Novell WordPerfect Case". Groklaw. 2009-11-23. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  19. ^ Open Source Initiative. "Halloween I: Open Source Software (New?) Development Methodology"
  20. ^ Press release from Microsoft which has viral nature of open-source quote
  21. ^ Parloff, Roger (2007-05-14). "Microsoft takes on the free world". Fortune (magazine) via CNNMoney.com. Retrieved 2007-11-04. . Microsoft's licensing chief claimed that specific examples have been given in private, in: Parloff, Roger. "Legal Pad, MSFT: Linux, free software, infringe 235 of our patents". .
  22. ^ "Microsoft's Linux ad 'misleading'". BBC News. August 26, 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  23. ^ "Linux 10 times more expensive? Get the facts, watchdog tells Microsoft". CNet. August 26, 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  24. ^ Protalinski, Emil (2010). "Microsoft posts video of customers criticizing OpenOffice". Retrieved 2010-10-14. 
  25. ^ The SCO Group v IBM – answer to amended complaint and counterclaims (Undecided, U.S. District Court – Utah, Kimball J., filed 6 August 2004) Section E, paragraph 22
  26. ^ The SCO Group v IBM – ORDER GRANTING IN PART IBM'S MOTION TO LIMIT SCO's CLAIMS (Undecided, U.S. District Court – Utah, Kimball J., filed 6 August 2004) Section IV, paragraphs 33,34
  27. ^ McBride, Darl. "Show Person". Retrieved 2006-12-30. 
  28. ^ "SCOX: Historical Prices for SCO GRP INC (THE)". Yahoo! Finance. 
  29. ^ "Investors bailing on SCO stock, SCOX plummets". arstechnica. 
  30. ^ Kravets, David (2009-07-28). "iPhone Jailbreaking Could Crash Cellphone Towers, Apple Claims". Wired. 
  31. ^ "The FUD Factor". csoonline.com. 
  32. ^ "The Anti-Kerry FUD". The Blog That Goes Ping. 2004-10-30. Retrieved 2006-12-30. 
  33. ^ Lilienthal, Hayden (28 April 2004). "New deal helps to heal Caltex wounds". EnergyNewsPremium. 
  34. ^ "Caltex 'bully' memo breached policy". ABC. 23 April 2004. 
  35. ^ Benns, Matthew (January 4, 2004). "Caltex in court over Woolies deal". Sydney Morning Herald. 
  36. ^ DeBare, Ilana (January 14, 2008). "Clorox introduces green line of cleaning products". SFGate.com. Retrieved February 5, 2010. 
  37. ^ Tennery, Amy (April 22, 2009). "4 'green' claims to be wary of". MSN. Retrieved February 5, 2010. 
  38. ^ "NAD Tells Clorox to Clean Up Ads". Environmentalleader.com. August 17, 2008. Retrieved February 5, 2010. 
  39. ^ Guy Chapman (November 16, 2014). "Food Babe: Serving up misinformation and rancid advice". randi.org. Retrieved November 28, 2014. 
  40. ^ Isenberg, David (January 3, 2000). "Electronic Pearl Harbor? More Hype Than Threat". Cato Institute. 
  41. ^ Clayton, Mark (December 7, 2012). "'Cyber Pearl Harbor': Could future cyberattack really be that devastating?". The Christian Science Monitor. 
  42. ^ "Dirty Bomber? Dirty Justice". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (SAGE Publications) 60 (1): 60. 2004-01-01. ISSN 0096-3402. Archived from the original on 2014-07-26. Retrieved 2007-05-14. 

External links[edit]

This article is based in part on the Jargon File, which is in the public domain.