'Don't tell anyone but I have a secret.' There, that's my security sorted

The inevitable return of Norbert Spankmonkey

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Where's my free promo tat? Fellow convention attendees have no such problem being showered with promotional gifts from all sides as they totter up and down the rows of booths.

You can see them staggering back to their hotel rooms, arms full of corporate-branded freebies, where they have prepared an empty suitcase specifically for shipping it all back to their BOFH Central at the end of the show.

Sure, it's all crap. It's usually the likes of childish desk toys, cable tidies that will snap within the week, pencils and logo-shaped erasers (as if you use such items all the time, right?), and Swiss army knives that will be routinely confiscated as you pass through airport security for the trip home. No matter, just turn up to the expo and companies will toss gifts at you like you were the GitHub messiah taking a seaside donkey ride into sysadmin Jerusalem.

Well, nobody tosses any in my direction. No blotchy ballpoint pens for me. No evil-smelling pads of sticky-notes that don't stick to anything. No spongey stress balls. No smartphone stands. No sharply angular keyfobs that stab into my bollocks when I sit down.

Me, when I visit an IT exhibition stand on the cadge, I have to provide evidence of my media accreditation, two forms of photo ID, an electricity bill, birth certificates of my family going back four generations (originals only, please) and a DNA swab before I qualify to receive a boiled sweet.

So when last week's MWC was cancelled for fears over COVID-19 – Barcelona being a particular hotspot for this potentially deadly virus, I understand – I was smugly satisfied that nobody else would be picking up promotional tat either. Not wanting to make undue light of the circumstances around the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, the cancellation left a lot of peripheral ex-exhibitors stranded with venue bookings they couldn't wriggle out of. I and all of my IT journalist colleagues received a surprising – I could even say refreshing, minty – invitation to Barcelona anyway to witness the launch of an "exciting new technology in oral hygiene."

I briefly considered going, not least because flights and hotel were being offered gratis. In the end I sent a polite letter of apology to explain that dentistry wasn't in my field of expertise.

Besides, I know for certain I'd be the only attendee to fly home without a free toothbrush.

The cancellation of such a big event forced marketeers to work harder to publicise the tech announcements they had originally planned to perform in person in the Catalan capital by ramming heaps of extra info through business social media. Unfortunately for them, getting seen by the right people this way is impossible since business social media is already stuffed with undiluted blah, thanks to all the unsolicited, undiluted wannabe influencer shite of the highest crapitude.

LinkedIn gets a particular kicking for being useless as a means of developing corporate interests these days – yet it has always been so, as I may have mentioned in my uninfluential past.

A competitor's recent press release, masquerading as yet another popular survey (yawn), "found" that LinkedIn members reckon barely one in five of their connections on the service serve any use in terms of business networking. The rest is just desperate noobs haggling for employment, photos of people in work attire standing in a row in front of the final slide of a PowerPoint presentation, and tosspots sharing inspirational quotes about the nirvana of startup failure.

The press release came from rival business messaging app company Guild, which says its own product is better because it's more "dedicated" or something nebulous like that. Bless 'em, Guild is one of hundreds of messaging apps out there saying the same thing, and they can't all be right; indeed, possibly none of them are.

One thing they all claim is that they are more private and more secure: you can exchange your grown-up, officey, worky stuff through us and nobody else will ever find out!

Ethical questions aside, this simply can't be true, can it? Business or consumer social media have their obvious differences but claims regarding privacy, security, encryption and so on should be common to both types. How can the security of private messaging between domestic users be any different from that between corporate users?

This is something discovered by French politician Benjamin Griveaux over the last fortnight (or as we say here, 15 days). Previously a key spokesman for president Emmanuel Macron, he was flying high in the polls to be elected mayor of Paris next month… until the electorate got a good look at his knob.

In a case of political revenge porn that is gripping the French nation almost as tightly as Griveaux was gripping himself, videos of him buffing the aubergine appeared on a short-lived satirical website apparently focusing on "political pornography" (don't bother asking) and promptly went viral.

These were private, first-person videos he'd taken himself spiralising the old courgette and sent to the object of his amour who, unfortunately for his wife, was not his wife. Predictably, neither woman was impressed with the, er, outcome.

Cue an embarrassed press conference with lots of deliberately posed shots of him looking downwards and contrite, during which he announced he would stand down from the imminent elections and pass the, er, baton to someone else. Taking their example from Griveaux himself, Macron's party La République en Marche (since redubbed "La République en Main") did a bit of frenzied reshuffling to find a replacement.

Put aside the political, moral and human issues: these are being thoroughly argued out in the media as you read this. As for nudey selfies, come on, most of us have tried it for a laugh – albeit most probably when we were students. What I want to know is how an intelligent, well-connected and tech-savvy party executive like this could allow his personal instruction video on the subject of unclothed self-taming to get into the wild in the first place.

Griveaux's official statement to the police claims that he sent the video person-to-person via a certain private messenging system – press reports do not name which one, unfortunately – that would delete the video after one minute. If this is true, it strengthens his case for "invasion of personal privacy", which has massive punitive outcomes in France thanks to Jacques Chirac who as president beefed up the privacy laws to protect his illegal financial dealings from media scrutiny.

What messaging app was he using? And is he being all that tech-savvy in his belief that his video would self-destruct after 60 seconds, like in some '70s episode of Mission Impossible? Even in WhatsApp, you have to remember to delete it yourself.

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Perhaps he was using a business-focused porn-selfie messenger: a kind of doing-the-business sharing app. It's the innovative new way of engaging with your contacts. Norbert Spankmoney wants to connect with you! Yes, I bet he does.

Come on, Ben, surely you know that for every ultra-secure, ultra-private, ultra-personal video messaging app, there are a dozen freebie video-grabbing utilities out there. Even if you code it up to prevent screen capture, someone could always video your video, just like they can photograph an onscreen secret document.

Give it up. Nothing is private any more.

That is, I assume you can get freebie video-grabbing utilities. I'm guessing to an extent. Since they are freebies, I didn't get any.

Much like Benjamin Griveaux.

Youtube Video

Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He believes Guild does not deserve to be associated with a facetious Register column like this and apologises profusely for taking advantage of its LinkedIn survey whose findings he wholeheartedly agrees with. On the other hand, he is fed up hearing about business social media apps that are supposed to be more effective than LinkedIn: even a freebie pencil and cheap pad of unsticky notes can be that. @alidabbs

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