Friday, February 10th, 2023

Coffee shops are not the place for confidential discussions

Photograph of a man sitting in a coffee shop in Osaka. Next to him is a laptop someone else has left unlocked on the table

Things I’ve learnt while quietly sitting in coffee shops:

  • the outline digital strategy for a client’s competitor (team talk over coffee)
  • what a certain FTSE 100 was looking for in their senior management (job interview) and why numerous individual employees were failing or succeeding at their jobs (performance reviews over coffee)
  • the margins on a supplier’s bid and their acceptable wiggle room (last minute pep talk before a pitch)
  • the user names, email addresses and passwords for a development platform (accidental capture on a “look at the unlocked laptop” photo I was going to share on Instagram)

Widen the net to trains, parks and libraries and I’ve read board minutes on M&As, planned disposals and acquisitions on a sports association’s portfolio and emails about Government business I’m sure were covered by “The Act”.

That’s off the top of my head.

None of this required Spooks level smarts, just an awareness of surroundings and the ability to sit quietly and observe. And the oblivious ignorance of those being observed.

My point is if you work in a public place you are in public. You can’t guarantee confidentiality to the same level you can in your place of work, no matter how clever you think your tech is or what policies you have in place.

By all means pop along to the coffee shop for a private chat or a change of scene. Use a library for a quiet place to sit while you sketch out ideas and structures. Just be aware your conversation will be overheard by others, your screen will be read and all that data protection and commercially confidential stuff is out the window the moment someone snaps something to share on social media.

Filed under:
#digital culture

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.