There was an editorial in The Boston Globe the other day about how nothing you send in email is private. I was disappointed when I read the piece because I’d been thinking about writing about the same subject. If I did, I wondered, would our mutual readers think I was copping ideas from the Globe? Worse, would the Globe think I was muscling in on their territory, using their editorials as springboards for my own? Would they write a piece about bloggers who steal ideas, and name me by name? Would a metro reporter call me for an interview, or even a lowly fact checker, to check a fact? Come to think of it, I’d like that, so I’ll forge ahead.
I started thinking about the futility of keeping email private the day I got one from an old colleague that read, in part, “Did you get the company confidential PowerPoint?” In case you haven’t been paying attention, I haven’t worked for that company in over a year. It would be natural to assume that I had not seen the ‘company confidential’ PowerPoint presentation. That, however, would be wrong. A second ex-colleague had already forwarded the file in question.
If that presentation were instead, say, a ring, which had been stolen by a burglar, I would be in possession of stolen property, and as such could be sent to the hoosegow. (I’ve never seen a hoosegow, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to go to one.) In that case, I would have the option of asking the person gifting me the ring, ‘where did you get this?’ If they answered that they stole it, I could politely decline. When someone sends you unrequested email, that you’re clearly not meant to see, are you culpable for receiving it?
On a related note, I’d like to point out that printers in public hallways are not secure. If you send a document to a public printer, there is a very good chance that someone else will see it. This does not have to be the result of malicious behavior; it could be an accident. Many were the times that I’d wander the halls yelling, “Who took my freakin’ document?” when something I’d printed disappeared. It was not unusual for someone to scoop up more than their own paper, and then set it aside in their office without looking.
A good friend of mine once inadvertently picked up a memo off a printer that talked about me. Realizing her mistake, she returned it to the printer, after she read it. Then, being the good friend that she was, she told me all about it. It ruined my day. Under the best of circumstances I can’t keep a secret, and this was the worst of circumstances, so I confronted the author and told him I knew what he’d said. Pandemonium ensued (details unlikely ever to be revealed in this blog, proving that perhaps I can keep a secret after all).
Did my friend do me a favor by sharing the contents of that confidential memo with me, or would I have been better off not knowing? I don’t know, but if I do find the answer to that question, I’ll be sure to share it with you.