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Warning, you are being recorded!


Yesterday, I had a unique experience that I found to be rather odd or irregular.  I was out for a customer meeting and had 30 minutes to use up having arrived earlier than expected due to lighter traffic because of March Break and so many folks were on holidays.

So, I queried Siri and found a nearby coffee shop to sit quietly and check my email.  I wanted to warm up and enjoy a cup of hot coffee to recover from the cold blowing north winds endured from my walk from the distant parking lot.

The coffee shop was surprisingly packed for mid afternoon.  There were few open chairs as the tables are jammed closely together and touching each other.  I had to slide into a tight spot next a man in a powered wheel chair.  He was at the next table with what appeared to be a social worker conducting a periodic medical interview.

Now, there are always all kinds of people meeting in coffee shops, but this scenario was different.  The social worker had open paper files all over the table and a laptop plugged into the outlet.  She used the coffee shops’ Wi-Fi as she complained about the weak signal levels.  I wonder if she had a VPN to secure her connection over this public network?

She openly discussed the gentleman’s medical history aloud, so it was impossible for others like me not to hear it all.  He vigorously argued points back to her, and bitterly complained about his poor medical care.  He was especially unhappy with the lack of support from his doctor who he named several times.  He was too loud.  This went on the whole time that I was there, about 30 minutes.  It was very uncomfortable for me and I noted that others were staring and glaring at them too.

This sort of confidential discussion should never be formally held in an open coffee shop.  It violated all kinds of privacy legislation.  Now, I have no idea why they held their consultation meeting in public, and there may have been some practical reason.  But, all too often, while in coffee shops, I hear confidential information from business people on the telephone, managers interviewing prospective employees, and sales people talking with customers.  It seems that we have moved confidential, behind closed-door conversations out into the public domain.  This is not right.

Now, to be honest, I absolutely did not want to hear any of this information.  But it is hard not to hear when everyone is so closely jam packed into a coffee shop.  I assume that this is one of the fall-outs of the ‘mobile worker’ trend.  Employers are trying to cut cost by the virtualization the work-force and use hoteling as a means for shared office space.  This displaces workers and pushes them into the public settings.

With so many independent subcontractors in this new virtualized work-force, meeting in one’s home is not ideal.  So, coffee shops with convenient AC outlets and free Wi-Fi are the new meeting rooms of choice, but without the requisite walls.


The same is true on airplanes.  Once I was on a five-hour flight and the two gentlemen in the row ahead of me were loudly discussing the finer details for a mass termination of employees at a company.  I sadly overheard it all.  Hundreds of staff were to be terminated.  How do I know; it was in the newspaper the following week and they used the company name aloud so often I was fully informed.  It was clear that one of the gentlemen was a hired HR consultant, who should have known better than to have such conversations publicly.  If I was smarter, I should have shorted the stock of the company, I could have made thousands of dollars from this confidential insider information.  Again, information, that I did not want to hear at all.

What are the risks?  How can this harm someone?  How does it hurt companies and the reputations of the people being discussed?

You might think, “hey, I am showing too much curiosity about other people’s affairs or I might be a busybody inappropriately and surreptitiously listening to confidential conversations”.  But, I assure that is not the case at all.  It is impossible not to hear in these close confine settings.

People need to consider the setting and the topic.  They need to properly judge whether the topic is appropriate to be discussed in a public setting.  In this social media intense world, all these privileged conversations can be instantly captured and easily posted.  Nothing seems to be sacred anymore and people will post anything.  So, be warned.  The world is watching.  The world is listening.  And, the world is recording you.

About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 13 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V). He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three Masters degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.