The New Cost of Digital Infidelity | Bruce Turkel

Buck’s Restaurant in Woodside, California, is ground zero for venture capitalists that invest in technology. I’m in town to give a presentation in Silicon Valley and stopped by this diner to eat breakfast and drink in some of the local culture.

Like lots of small, family-owned breakfast and lunch spots, Buck’s has a vast collection of local memorabilia hanging on the wall. Except where you might expect to find display cases with trout flies or Harley Davidson parts, Buck’s walls are festooned with silicon chips and tech discoveries.

The people look different here, too. Most are young men, conscientiously scruffy in their North Face fleece vests and expensive Italian eyeglasses. The few women who are here are also young and fresh-faced, and look like they just strolled off a ski slope.

Almost everyone is on their smartphone or tablet. Those who aren’t are sharing a presentation on their MacBook Pros. And everyone’s talking pretty loudly. But unlike coffee shops in New York, where everyone talks about financial schemes, or restaurants in LA where the chatter is all about “the business” (movies and entertainment), the talk here is all tech-related “speeds and feeds.”

The couple in the booth next to me is a perfect example. The guy is in his late 30s, studiously underdressed with a severe case of bed head. His date, a bubbly blond in her 20s, is hanging on his every word and expressing her interest with staccato outbursts of self-conscious laughter.

What caught my attention were the words he was using to keep her attention. Instead of the compliments and bon mots of typical seduction, his romancing was peppered with terms such as “milestone-based,” “seed relationships,” “mobile solutions,” “platforms,” and “self-partnering.” I’m not sure all of these are even real tech terms but she kept giggling appreciatively so his rap must have been working.

The other thing he was doing to impress her was listing the various companies his venture firm has invested in. And here’s where it gets interesting: The logo embroidered on his jacket read “Azure Capital” and he was talking about one of their larger investments, an online video site called “TwitVid.” So with a few stabs on my web-enabled iPad we pulled up his company’s site and found his name and CV. His headshot confirmed that the guy on the screen and the guy on the make were one and the same.

Are you following what just happened? Talk about loose lips sinking ships. Thanks to ubiquitous Internet information and a loud-mouthed Lothario, we were able to trace and substantiate an overheard rumor with real market confirmation. If I was a reporter, a competitor or a corporate spy looking for info, imagine what could have happened.

If there were something in it for me or for my clients, I could have tweeted the information he discussed immediately or posted it online. Either way, it’s highly possible that his partners or his competition could have read about him and his secrets before he even got back to the office from breakfast. And with info aggregator sites such as  TechCrunch and Mashable acting more and more like scandal site TMZ and actively scouring the web for up-to-the-minute scoops, the info about Azure and TwitVid could’ve been worldwide before lunch. Luckily for my new friend, I have no interest in his business nor in publicly embarrassing him.

But all of a sudden, people everywhere are armed with the digital cameras and web-enabled access devices that turn them into 24/7 Internet paparazzi and the worlds of business, news, and politics will never be the same. Gary Hart, Donna Rice and the Real Monkey Business were only the beginning. Soon television reality shows and whole Internet channels will be dedicated to unscripted, caught-in-the-act user-generated “gotcha” videos.

This revelation suggests that not only should business people, et al, be more circumspect about what they say and where they say it, but that new chances will continue to pop up for rumor-based marketing opportunities. Also, that formerly no-brainer branding vehicles such as logo-ed shirts and caps and vanity license plates should now be used judiciously because of their ability to give the cyber sleuth a quick and easy way to start their search. After all, most of us have secrets and skeletons we’d rather keep hidden in the closet. And today’s technology is going to make that harder and harder.

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