Fear, uncertainty and doubt (often shortened to FUD) is a propaganda tactic used in sales, marketing, public relations, politics, polling and cults. FUD is generally a strategy to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information and a manifestation of the appeal to fear.
The term "fear, uncertainty and doubt" appeared as far back as the 1920s, whereas the similar formulation "doubts, fears and uncertainties" reaches back to 1693. By 1975, the term was appearing abbreviated as FUD in marketing and sales contexts as well as in public relations:
One of the messages dealt with is FUD—the fear, uncertainty and doubt on the part of customer and sales person alike that stifles the approach and greeting.
The abbreviation FUD is also alternatively rendered as "fear, uncertainty and disinformation".
FUD is the fear, uncertainty and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products.
The idea, of course, was to persuade buyers to go with safe IBM gear rather than with competitors' equipment. This implicit coercion was traditionally accomplished by promising that Good Things would happen to people who stuck with IBM, but Dark Shadows loomed over the future of competitors' equipment or software. After 1991, the term has become generalized to refer to any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon.
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 aim is to have IT departments buy software they know to be technically inferior because upper management is more likely to recognize the brand.
The strategy of deliberately sowing doubts about scientific findings was used by the Tobacco Industry.
Microsoft soon picked up the art of FUD from IBM, and throughout the '80s used FUD as a primary marketing tool, much as IBM had in the previous decade. They ended up out FUD-ing IBM themselves during the OS/2 vs Win3.1 years.
In 1996, Caldera, Inc. accused Microsoft of several anti-competitive practices, including issuing vaporware announcements, creating FUD, and excluding competitors from participating in beta-test programs in order to destroy competition in the DOS market. 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. 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:
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's compatibility and thereby destroy the product's reputation, internal Microsoft memos published as part of the United States v. Microsoft antitrust case later revealed that the specific focus of these error messages was DR DOS. At one point, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates sent a memo to a number of employees, reading
You never sent me a response on the question of what things an app would do that would make it run with MS-DOS and not run with DR-DOS. Is there [a] feature they have that might get in our way?
Microsoft Senior Vice President Brad Silverberg later sent another memo, stating
At around the same time, the leaked internal Microsoft "Halloween documents" stated "OSS [Open Source Software] is long-term credible… [therefore] FUD tactics cannot be used to combat it." Open source software, and the Linux community in particular, are widely perceived as frequent targets of Microsoft's FUD:
- Statements about the "viral nature" of the GNU General Public License (GPL).
- Statements that "…FOSS [Free and open source software] infringes on no fewer than 235 Microsoft patents", before software patent law precedents were even established.
- Statements that Windows Server 2003 has lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than Linux, in Microsoft's "Get-The-Facts" campaign. It turned out that they were comparing Linux on a very expensive IBM mainframe to Windows Server 2003 on an Intel Xeon-based server.
- A 2010 video claimed that OpenOffice.org had a higher long-term cost of ownership, as well as poor interoperability with Microsoft's own office suite. The video featured statements such as "If an open source freeware solution breaks, who's gonna fix it?"
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, according to IBM, which argued in its counterclaim that SCO was spreading "fear, uncertainty, and doubt".
Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells wrote (and Judge Dale Albert 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.'"
Regarding the matter, Darl Charles McBride, President and CEO of SCO, made the following statements:
- "IBM has taken our valuable trade secrets and given them away to Linux,"
- "We're finding... cases where there is line-by-line code in the Linux kernel that is matching up to our UnixWare code"
- "...unless more companies start licensing SCO's property... [SCO] may also sue Linus Torvalds... for patent infringement."
- "Both companies [IBM and Red Hat] have shifted liability to the customer and then taunted us to sue them."
- "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'"
- "As of Friday,  June , 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"
- "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..."
- "Users are running systems that have basically pirated software inside, or stolen software inside of their systems, they have liability."
SCO stock skyrocketed from under US$3 a share to over US$20 in a matter of weeks in 2003. It later dropped to around US$1.2—then crashed to under 50 cents on 13 August 2007, in the aftermath of a ruling that Novell owns the UNIX copyrights.
Apple's claim that iPhone jailbreaking could potentially allow hackers to crash cell phone towers was described by Fred von Lohmann, a representative of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as a "kind of theoretical threat...more FUD than truth".
FUD is widely recognized as a tactic to promote the sale or implementation of security products and measures. 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.
FUD has also been utilized in technical support scams, which may use fake error messages to scare unwitting computer users, especially the elderly or computer-illiterate, into paying for a supposed fix for a non-existent problem, to avoid being framed for criminal charges such as unpaid taxes, or in extreme cases, false accusations of illegal acts such as child pornography.
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 destabilize 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.
In 2008, Clorox was the subject of both consumer and industry criticism for advertising its Green Works line of allegedly environmentally friendly cleaning products using the slogan, "Finally, Green Works." 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. 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.
- Agent provocateur – Person who incites others to commit incriminating acts
- Agnotology – Study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt
- Culture of fear – Arrangement in which fear of retribution is pervasive
- Denial and deception – Framework in military intelligence theory
- Dihydrogen monoxide parody – Parody where water is presented by an uncommon name
- Discrediting tactic – Effort to damage someone's reputation
- Doubt Is Their Product – 2008 book by David Michaels (book)
- Dunning–Kruger effect – Cognitive bias about one's own skill
- Embrace, extend, and extinguish – Anti-competitive Microsoft business strategy (EEE)
- False flag – Covert operation designed to deceive
- Fearmongering – Deliberate use of fear-based tactics
- Fnord – Subliminal shibboleth
- Hoax – Deliberately fabricated falsehood masquerading as truth
- Iago – Character in Othello
- Merchants of Doubt – 2014 American documentary film by Robert Kenner (film)
- Merchants of Doubt – 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (book)
- Moral panic – Fear that some evil threatens society
- Obscurantism – Practice of obscuring information
- Perception management – Influence tactic
- Project Fear – Term used in British politics
- Propaganda – Material created to influence or persuade
- Rational ignorance – Practice of avoiding research whose cost exceeds its benefits
- Scareware – Malware designed to elicit fear, shock, or anxiety
- Swiftboating – Political jargon for a particular form of character assassination as a smear tactic
- Tin foil hat – Hat and stereotype for conspiracy theorists
- Vaporware – Product announced but never released
- Whataboutism – Formal fallacy
- Yarbrough, Caesar Augustus (1920-05-22). "Chapter: Letters from Association Answering Objections - Laymen's Repies to Criticism with the Author's Comments - Association Not Formed for Evangelical Purposes". The Roman Catholic Church Challenged in the Discussion of Thirty-two Questions with the Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia. Macon, Georgia, USA: The Patriotic Societies of Macon. p. 75. LCCN 20009417. OCLC 1084527008. Cl. A570137. ark:/13960/t26982v0c.
[…] Suspicion has no place in our interchanges; it is a shield for ignorance, a sign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. […]  (NB. In there, Yarbrough is citing a 1917-09-21 letter by J. J. Farrell, Augusta, Georgia, USA, which contains the quotation.)
- Gardner, Monica Mary (1926). Dent, Joseph Malaby (ed.). The Patriot Novelist of Poland, Henryk Sienkiewicz. London, England: E. P. Dutton & Co. p. 71.
[…] Again he was caught in a tempest of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. […](See also: Henryk Sienkiewicz)
- Payne, William (1695) [1693-03-21]. "Chapter VII. The Conclusion.". Written at London, England. A Practical Discourse of Repentance, Rectifying the Mistakes about it, especially such as lead either to Despair or Presumption. Perswading and Directing to the True Practice of it, and Demonstrating the Invalidity of a Death-Bed Repentance (2nd ed.). The Princes Arms, St. Pauls Church Yard: Samuel Smith; Benjamin Walford. p. 557. OCLC 51617518. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
[…] 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; […]
- Payne, William (1708) [1693-03-21]. "Chapter VII. The Conclusion.". Written at London, England. A Practical Discourse of Repentance, Rectifying the Mistakes about it, especially such as lead either to Despair or Presumption. Perswading and Directing to the True Practice of it, and Demonstrating the Invalidity of a Death-Bed Repentance (corrected and reset 2nd ed.). The Sun and Moon (near the Royal Exchange), Cornhill; the Ship, St. Paul's Church-Yard: Richard Burrough and John Baker; William Taylor. p. 406. OCLC 1086876590. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
[…] 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; […]
- "The search for self". Clothes. New York, NY, USA: PRADS, Inc. 10 (14–24): 19. 1975-10-01. Retrieved 2011-06-10.
[…] One of the messages dealt with is FUD—the fear, uncertainty and doubt on the part of customer and sales person alike that stifles the approach and greeting. […]
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- Elliott, Gail (2003). School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse. Philadelphia, USA: Brunner–Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94551-8. (NB. For example, FUD has been used to describe social dynamics in contexts where sales, lobbying or commercial promotion is not involved.)
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[…] Microsoft will pay to Caldera, by wire transfer in accordance with written instructions provided by Caldera, the amount of two hundred eighty million dollars ($280,000,000), as full settlement of all claims or potential claims covered by this agreement […](NB. This document of the Caldera v. Microsoft case was an exhibit in the later Comes v. Microsoft case.)
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Microsoft Corp. agreed to pay an estimated $275 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit by Caldera Inc., heading off a trial that was likely to air nasty allegations from a decade ago. […] Microsoft and Caldera, a small Salt Lake City software company that brought the suit in 1996, didn't disclose terms of the settlement. Microsoft, though, said it would take a charge of three cents a share for the agreement in the fiscal third quarter ending March 31 […] the company has roughly 5.5 billion shares outstanding […]
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- Press release from Microsoft which has viral nature of open-source quote
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This article is based in part on the Jargon File, which is in the public domain.