BERLIN (06/30/2000) - Helmut Kohl's political problems are proving a boon to a Bavarian software maker. The tiny company, Alpenland Handelsgesellschaft mbH, renamed its data-destruction software after the former German chancellor Wednesday. Since then, the program, rechristened "Helmut Kohl Data Killer," has become a smash success.
"Since we did this, we've had over 145,000 hits from around the world," said company owner Meinrad Muller. "Maybe 40 percent of those downloaded the software."
The program, called helmut_kohl_datenloescher.exe in the original German, safely erases all data from a computer's hard disk drive "so one can be sure even the KGB can never read it," said Muller. It can be downloaded free from the company's Web site.
The inspiration for the gag comes from a serious scandal. A German parliamentary committee is accusing Kohl of having erased two-thirds of the data from computers in the Chancellor's office between his election loss in September 1998 and the hand-over of power to his political rival, Gerhard Schroder, a month later.
Muller said, as a businessman, he found reports about Kohl's conduct shocking.
"In Germany, we have a very tough data protection law; you have to keep data on your premises for 10 years, in case the tax authorities have to check the books.... why should persons like Oliver North or Helmut Kohl have special rights?" Former U.S. National Security Council member Lt. Col. Oliver North was accused of shredding Reagan Administration documents in the late 1980s.
Political satire is nothing new to Muller. His company's Web site has a link titled "humor," where visitors can see various visual gags about the Kohl scandal. "What's left to see on the Chancellor's office hard drive?" asks one link. Click it, and you see a listing of your own computer's files.
Muller, who is 46 and trained as a chemist, began his business by offering to destroy paper documents. Alpenland, which is privately held, still takes truck-mounted shredders to clients' business locations, and Muller says that service is still his "cash cow." But increasingly, he said, customers were demanding electronic data destruction.
In addition to the disk-overwriting software, Alpenland sells devices that magnetically erase hard drives and a shredder for self-burned CD-ROMs. "Lots of firms just forget how important data is; when they put old PCs in the graveyard, they forget about the data," said Muller. "There are many disks lying around in drawers -- nobody knows what's on them."
As for his publicity drive, says Muller, it's a simple question of charisma.
"Nowadays, especially because of the Internet, ... the user wants to know who is behind the company ... a personality with music in his heart."
Alpenland, in Grafrath, Germany, can be reached at +49-8144-9122 or on the Web at http://software.alpenland.com/.