This conversation is being recorded

This conversation is being recorded

Summary: At a conference room lunch the other day (not at Accenture), a small group was discussing immigration and the means by which various countries manage to integrate various ethnicities. We had representatives from several countries who, collectively, had quite diverse perspectives, particularly regarding the United States.

TOPICS: Mobility

At a conference room lunch the other day (not at Accenture), a small group was discussing immigration and the means by which various countries manage to integrate various ethnicities. We had representatives from several countries who, collectively, had quite diverse perspectives, particularly regarding the United States. It got kind of heated--you might even say it got kind of politically incorrect. I've become totally paranoid about this: I don't even trust "Mute" buttons anymore. Suddenly, the speaker phone piped up: "This meeting, and its recording, will end in 10 minutes." There was a pause. I said, "We're all fired."

I don't know how it happened--maybe the previous meeting's participants just hadn't hung up--but I do know that, for a few seconds, we all had identical pits in our stomachs. Then we reminded ourselves that no one ever listens to those recordings (right?). Separately, my wife recently got a call from a friend who said, "Your cell phone keeps calling me and I can hear everything you're saying." (My wife had been inadvertently leaning against it and thereby pressing her friend's speed dial number.) My wife and I quickly reviewed our recent conversation, searching for references to her friend, her friend's cats, our finances or the Corn Laws (1815-1846). Mercifully, none was found.

So what?

These little incidents illustrate an emerging hazard: the risk of being overheard (and possibly recorded) pretty much wherever you happen to be. The risks are very real: it's only a matter of time before our smart phones become so intelligent that a cracker can eavesdrop on you by hacking into yours and having it quietly call his. (Deep thought for the day: Intelligence and its handmaiden, complexity, are the cracker's friends.) Ditto that ultra-modern phone on your bedside table, whose hang-up is probably in software and hence subject to remote manipulation in a way that classic phones' purely mechanical switch hooks are not. Then there's the story about workstations shipped by a major manufacturer in the late 1980s: the ports for their microphones weren't secured, so anyone could connect to them over the Internet and monitor the politics being played out in offices around the world (not that anything like that could happen today). And of course your interlocutor could always be running the digital audio recorder built into his cell phone.

I've become totally paranoid about this situation: I don't even trust "Mute" buttons anymore. I've gotten into the habit of speaking very quietly (read my lips) whenever I want to say something that might offend someone not present. I know it's stupid, but I figure it'll save my precious posterior one of these days—if it hasn't already. I mean, it'd be disastrous if certain people found out how I really feel about the Corn Laws


Topic: Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Privacy & Technology

    Your wife doesn't know how to use the keyboard-lock sequence on her 'phone? Does she have a problem reading manuals? On mine (as on most) it is a simple two-button sequence that can be done one-handed. I can even set a timer so that this lock is applied automatically if I pocket it in a hurry. I have a very cheap cellphone (I'm good at breaking them), so this kind of feature is very common.

    You appear to be highlighting two seperate problems here:
    - People who (to be generous to you and your wife) have difficulty assimilating technology; and
    - Poor support from those who ask us to use their technology.

    The basic problem for people like yourself here is that manufacturers and service providers are building and supplying sophisticated ICT tools - and taking them to market incomplete. They are clearly not making them user friendly enough, providing online support, or supplying good manuals.

    Most toasters today come with a 'tone' setting - yet also come with a Stop button for those too dim to be able to set the Tone button to the desired shade.

    If someone tried to sell you a toaster without a Stop button (for those who prefer their toast before the charcoal stage) you would look for one that did - and you might even be moved to complain to the seller in question (or even write to the manufacturer). ICT companies should be learning from this, but appear to be very bad at it. That may not be so much of a surprise on the privacy front, given that most of these suppliers suffer from a conflict of interest - they also sell security products and services.

    Employers are particularly bad at dumping ICT on us - and simply expecting us to use it. Back in the '80s I ran a little project to install a PBX in a large new office building. I ran training courses on how to use the new 'phones - I also distributed manuals, quick reference guides, launched a help desk, and I gave everyone a specially written corporate guide to 'phone use!

    I forget who it was who said that 'You no longer have any privacy - get over it' (or words to that effect). They were completely wrong, of course - but then they probably work for a big ICT supplier.

    As for hackers - who on Earth wants to hear your opinion of your work colleagues - let alone the Corn Laws? Sorry, but, there are not nearly enough clever hackers who are also severly twisted voyeurs to worry me...
    Stephen Wheeler
  • Accountability

    I got involved with student government during college and realized that people were going to give me a hard time about any little mistakes I had made or things I had said. I then realized that that's how people are everywhere. Someone could always be listening/watching, and if you did something that they could consider "bad" they might try to cause trouble. I came up with a very simple policy to live by which I use to this day: Never do or say anything I'm not willing to be held to account for. My social and professional worlds seem improved for it.
  • Privacy and conversation

    Along the same lines, I have wondered for some time about this: If people can see what we write on the internet, unless it's secure -- why couldn't they also LISTEN to what we say when we use the internet for phone conversations? Shouldn't this be a privacy concern for us, as well, with VONAGE and others becoming more common?