Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Living in a vibrant urban environment is chock full of sensory input every day. Lights, sirens, televisions in airports, all add to the constant din of people in perpetual motion. It's irrepressible, and can make this girl very grateful for her little personal sanctuary at the end of the day. I'm a fairly energetic gal and have a job that keeps me on the go, so I am out and about regularly. Like many urban dwellers, I rely heavily on public transportation and, often for business meetings, use air travel to get to other cities quickly. The multitude of people I encounter along the way is considerable. I swear, sometimes walking down the street I wonder what everyone else is doing. I mean, they can't all be going to meet clients, so what on earth are they up to?

Well my friend, you only need to sit still for two minutes to answer that last question. I have heard more intimate details than I could ever imagine on what is otherwise a fairly benign metro ride. I am beginning to think I know everything about my neighbors. And their families, employers, doctors, lovers, best friends, and worst enemies. Boyfriends dumped, jobs resigned, marketing strategies debated, health problems revealed (ewww), and goods and services procured. All involving names, addresses, phone numbers, and the occasional credit card or social security number.

I am not eavesdropping, or trying in the slightest to hear this stuff. I'd rather not hear it, to be honest, my little brain is busy enough thinking of the fifty things I need to do that day and need all the help I can get in keeping it all straight. But the oversharing by my neighbors is impossible to ignore because these folks are talking, or more like shouting, over their mobile phones to conduct their business. Just because you CAN do all your business on the phone does it mean that you have to do it in clear earshot of the rest of the population? In public?! An identity thief would have a field day, and for all I know there might be one sitting next to me at any given moment.

I hope you are scared by now, or at least thinking a bit about what you say when you are out in public. Hey, I rely on my mobile phone as much as the next person and I am all for multitasking on the go, but are these people stopping to think about what they are revealing? Not only about themselves, but about whoever is on the other end of the phone and/or subject of their conversation. Case in point, a few months back I needed to work remotely for the day due to an office move and I was having some work done in my house so I parked at a local coffee shop for a few hours to catch up on email (using the secure VPN, of course). A young woman at the next table over was joined by an HR representative from a prestigious consulting company in what quickly became apparent as a job interview. In a scant 30 minutes it was all laid out for anyone within earshot (and I was not the only one): the name of the company and its growth strategy, the position at stake, the composition and culture of the team ("we are such good friends we are like a sorority"), the compensation of the position as well as the person being interviewed. The judgment of the HR person for conducting a full blown job interview in a coffee shop aside, this could have been a field day for a competitor or identity snoop. Far from an innocuous conversation, they exchanged real actionable data. It was somewhat shocking that there was so little regard for personal privacy in this exchange. And what ever happened to decorum?

Every day we learn about something like a systems glitch that momentarily exposes 100,000 credit card numbers, or old medical records destined for the shred bin somehow ending up getting windblown down the street. We all gasp, shake our fingers at the offending party, and quickly change our passwords to protect ourselves. If only people were as careful about what they say and where they say it, personal privacy would be a whole lot easier to control. Think about it the next time you answer your cell phone running to and fro, or call your business partner from an airport gate to hash over that last deal negotiation detail. Revealing sensitive information like this in public can have consequences for the parties directly and indirectly involved. And it might not be so pretty.


  1. So true. The first thing we were taught as baby lawyers was to never, never never discuss client matters in public - in an elevator, on the train, anywhere. You literally never know who is right next to you.

  2. Thank you for sharing this information..