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Today’s lesson: your private conversations ain’t so private

Thu, Oct 23, 2008

Public Relations, Social Media, Video

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Big Mouth? Don’t be that guy (courtesy Hamed Saber on Flickr CC).jpgI don’t personally agree with his methodology, but I must admit I was morbidly fascinated by the results….

PR guy Peter Shankman was riding the train to some business-related destination when another man sat across from him, pulled out a cell phone and said “Apologies in advance, I talk a lot.”

Insert grimace here, right? Immediately don iPod/noise-cancelling headphones, and rue the advent of technology, right?

Shankman went further.

He could hear from the man’s constant chatter that he was conducting sensitive business on the phone, so Shankman decided that an object lesson was in order.

With a warning tweet out to his Twitter stream, Shankman turned his laptop around, faced it towards Mr. Oblivious Babbling Businessman and proceeded to livestream the guy on Yahoo LIVE.

I happened to see Shankman’s tweet, and out of curiosity (I admit, I knew this event had “Every Dot Connects blog post” written all over it) I watched the stream for awhile until it was cut off, including the guy yakking away to his lawyer about business information.

The instructive part of this drill was the comments.  When I logged on to Yahoo LIVE, about 50 people were listening to and watching Mr. Oblivious Babbling Businessman.  They were researching madly and posting….

His name.

His company.

His LinkedIn profile, including an aside that he only had two connections.

His ZoomInfo page.

His work phone number.

It was easy to do since the guy spoke fairly clearly and with plenty of detail. Chat participants also took screenshots of Mr. OBB and sent them to Shankman’s email account, for use in a future post, no doubt.

Chat members worried when the stream stopped and the screen went red (one wrote, “….the guy jumped him [meaning jumped Shankman] and the camera fell in a pool of blood, it appears.”)

It was the “definition of a train wreck” typed another online chat observer.

No kidding.

This is why so many people and companies freak out about the Web, and they SHOULD if they’re just now figuring out that everyone is a potential recorder/journalist, and laptops have Webcams (so if a laptop is facing you, it might behoove you to consider whether you’re being livestreamed.)

My thoughts….

  • It is not new that one should not conduct private business in public places, especially about legal issues.
  • It is not new that it is rude to talk and talk and talk on your cell phone in close, crowded public places.

What IS new is the ability of technology to instantly spread your foibles worldwide, if someone equipped with that technology chooses to do so.

In a perfect world, none of us would do stupid, rude things. It is not a perfect world, of course, and we aren’t going to stuff that livestream back into the pre-Web bottle, so people and companies had better understand….

  1. What this technology can do (meaning all the way up through the C-suite needs to understand what technology can do, not just “those IT guys”) and
  2. What it means to the never-a-good-idea of sweeping errors under the rug. You can run but you cannot hide.

I’m sure Shankman will get an earful about this incident, but I’ll submit this….he will get in a lot less trouble for doing it than Mr. Oblivious Babbling Businessman will get when that train pulls in and he goes to his office.

What do you think, readers? Was Shankman’s shot fair or foul?

This post was written by:

Sheila Scarborough - who has written 31 posts on Every Dot Connects.

I'm a writer and speaker specializing in tourism,travel and social media. Co-founder of Tourism Currents.

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22 Comments For This Post

  1. Deb@Bird On A Wire Says:

    While it may reek of “paparazzi” style journalism, and might be ethically a little to the left of center, I think it was spot on. Shankman proved a point to all of us.

    Careful what you say, about whom and where you say it. Mr. OBB if he’s still employed should take a huge lesson from this, and so should we all.

  2. Robyn Says:

    Definitely fair. If you are conducting business in a public space, you are agreeing that anyone can listen and/or watch you.

    If you do it in a very small public space (on a plane, a train, in a crowded restaurant) you should EXPECT that people will overhear.

    And if you do it loudly, in such a way that you are actively disturbing the other people in the space, you are a selfish and ignorant moron. I’m not bitter – I’m just sayin’. :)

    It looks like the Universe made this guy an object lesson. Woe to him who annoys a social media maven!

  3. Jessiev Says:

    Scary. and true…I can’t blv the stuff that people say out in public, on the phone.

  4. Ike Says:

    In foulness, there is the fair.

    I don’t know what yet to think. It certainly is an object lesson for the ages. And I am already thinking about how I can prep our corporate officers so they will be aware of the dangers of citizen-J in the wild.

  5. msphotogirl Says:

    Fair. It’s a public place.

  6. peter Says:

    I’d say that if people are JUST learning this lesson, they’re light years behind the times to begin with.

  7. antje wilsch Says:

    I’m all about saving time & being efficient (ie on the train doing business) but I’m more about “this is my space stop invading it” and applaud Peter for showing the guy that a) he was being annoying by forcing everyone else to have to listen to his stuff b) he was being dumb in allowing anyone else to hear private info.

    I hate people who talk loud enough for me to overhear their entire conversations in closed spaces.

  8. Cherrye at My Bella Vita Says:

    I agree. Fair. Fair. Fair.

    The guy obviously had no qualms about sharing his personal business info with strangers. Good lesson, I say!

  9. Sheila Scarborough Says:

    Thanks for all of the comments so far. My mind isn’t totally made up but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m leaning towards “fair,” since it was a public place.

    As I said to one person on Twitter, both guys were tacky, but one guy was tacky AND dumb.

    I don’t think a lot of people really understand that “public” these days means “public across the entire planet and in every time zone.”

    And I must regretfully agree with “peter” above: “I’d say that if people are JUST learning this lesson, they’re light years behind the times to begin with.”

    Now going off to ensure that I’m honest, polite, circumspect AND having a good hair day, in case I’m video’d…. :)

  10. thomas Says:

    Just because you can doesn’t mean you should and just because there isn’t a law against something, doesn’t mean its OK or ethical. It’s a shame, especially in these days of ever-declning privacy and cameras-at-every-angle, that respect and privacy are no longer cherished attributes. It is wrong (and foolish) for one not to respect those around them by chattering loudly about sensitive topics, if that was the case. But it is likewise wrong (a worse wrong) for one to invade someone else’s privacy in some vigilante retribution for what amounts to a minor infraction of the standards of politeness. It would be more of a shame and ethical failing if society in general accepts a premise that web-based paparrazi prying into other people’s business is OK. It should not be the case that merely being in public and around others means you should have no privacy, your business should be broadcast, and that others should not mind their own business. Let us all hope the trend doesn’t become one where clandestine meetings in concrete-encased basements are needed to have a private conversation between two people and freedom of assembly fails as an exercise of paranoid self-restraint. Government is not the only thing that can seize away freedoms.

  11. Elizabeth Says:

    Fair. Totally Fair. Absolutely stinks for Mr. OBB of course, but if you don’t want it public…don’t talk about it in public.

  12. Csalomonlee Says:

    While Mr. OBB shouldn’t have been discussing sensitive business on the train, I don’t think peter should’ve aimed the camera at MR. OBB, especially without fair warning. If you’re a celebrity, you expect this. As a private citizen, you don’t. While I think this wasn’t ethical, we all now know how easy it is for your conversations to be recorded and broadcasted to strangers.

  13. Linsey Says:

    @thomas – I think your response was spot on. “But it is likewise wrong (a worse wrong) for one to invade someone else’s privacy in some vigilante retribution for what amounts to a minor infraction of the standards of politeness.” Absolutely.

  14. Sheila Scarborough Says:

    I’m glad to see opposing viewpoints coming in since it gives a more well-rounded picture of the issues, and thanks to those who visited and left comments. The slam against digital “vigilante retribution” is pretty persuasive.

  15. Dwight Silverman Says:

    I don’t think it’s so much “retribution” as Shankman making a very good point.

    When you’re talking loudly on a phone in public, you’re waiving your right to privacy. You may have some illusion that it’s just you and the person on the other end of the line, but it’s not. It’s everyone in earshot.

    No, this wasn’t “retribution”, but it was a lesson learned – hopefully – by the loudmouth on the phone. I feel sorry for him, but I have a feeling he’ll think twice before doing it again. As will we all.

  16. anonymous Says:

    I once had a fight with my boyfriend over the cellphone as I was seated on a plane waiting to take off. It was emotional, I was very upset, and I was telling him that I didn’t want to see him anymore. I’m quite certain that it was very uncomfortable for the unfortunate passenger seated next to me. Why couldn’t it wait until a more private moment? Long plane flight ahead of me, and I didn’t want to wait to deal with the problem until I got back and would be re-immersed face-to-face with the problem again. He needed to hear what I had to say and face several hours of silence to think about it. I didn’t even apologize to the poor man next to me, I think my tears said enough. sometimes our private life happens in public.

  17. peter Says:

    1) Do we know what was said? Doubtful.

    2) Did anyone make a transcript? No.

    3) Is it saved anywhere? No.

    4) Did I know all this before I did it? Hell yes.

    5) Did I expect it to bring down his company, his clients, or ruin him? Of course not.

    6) Did it? Absolutely not.

    End of story – The holier-than-thou comments don’t make any points – they just say “Oh, I wouldn’t do that.” Fine – then don’t. I didn’t do anything to ruin him. I simply did it to prove a point. What if he DID say something re: clients, or public companies? He could have been held liable in court! Not too swift, no?

    Did we learn something? Then I stand by my actions.

  18. Ike Says:

    @anonymous -

    You had an unscheduled moment of emotion.

    This lawyer gave a premeditated warning that he was loud, and was going to annoy people.

    He knew what he was doing.

  19. Sanjay Nasta Says:

    Peter’s trick was clever but truly the “punishment” was out of proportion. Leave the teaching a lesson to parents and judges will you. If this lawyer was so annoying you had the option of moving. Your comments in this forum are a bit self-righteous.

  20. RobynCA Says:

    I say right on! There is no expectation of privacy in a public place. You didn’t record him in the toliet or his bedroom or through a peep hole. He was in a public place.

    When I go grocery shopping I hear women on their cells discussing every position and moan they had in bed the night before. Unbelievable! One woman was bragging about her new MARRIED boyfriend and revealed enough info for me to contact his wife. The guy is a lawyer according to her conversation. She may have thought she was having a private phone call but she put me in the middle of it.

    Never reduce anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of the paper. Never say anything you wouldn’t want repeated unless you are having a conversation with a priest, doctor or lawyer.

  21. Sonia Simone Says:

    Public place. Completely fair.

    If you want privacy, go someplace private. The rest of us will cheer.

  22. Sheila Scarborough Says:

    Thanks for all of the additional comments, and welcome to the visitors coming over from Liz Strauss’ SOB Business Cafe (no, no, that’s “Successful and Outstanding Bloggers!”) It’s great to have an opportunity to examine these issues….

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