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Those awkward moments when private business emails are read by the wrong people

Written by Zen Terrelonge on Monday, 22 October 2018. Posted in Cyber security, Technology

Aside from the fact that remaining professional on work emails at all times is the responsible thing to do, the fact they could get into the wrong hands is an added incentive – as demonstrated by these messages

Those awkward moments when private business emails are read by the wrong people

We’ve probably all had that sense of dread in our personal lives when you have, or at least think you have, sent a message to the wrong person. Perhaps moaning about your other half to a friend only to send it to said significant other or, worse still, sending nudes to the wrong recipient. The horror.

This misfire can be devastating in the professional world. One notable, er, private moment came via US senator Ted Cruz. A politician known for his conservative sexual views, Cruz’s Twitter account was found to have liked a two-minute porn video on the social network. Embarrassing to say the least.

But what happens when a business leader has private company messages not intended for eyes outside of the firm venture off into the outside world? At best, red faces all around and at worst the firm is disgraced and left with its reputation tarnished. Here are some accounts of those that have been impaled upon their own swords.

Sony Pictures

The road for Sony Pictures doesn’t tend to run smoothly – just look at its Spider-Verse attempt and endless reboots of the web-slinger. By far more embarrassing though was the firm’s data leaking fiasco in 2015, which saw a whopping 170,000 emails and 30,000 documents published. “The cyber attack on Sony Pictures was a malicious criminal act,” slammed the movie maker in a statement. The leaked emails saw the dirty laundry of executives hung out for all to see. Producer Scott Rudin said “Kill me please” in response to Angelina Jolie’s desire to direct rather than act. Elsewhere, then-CEO Amy Pascal and Rudin joked that former president Barack Obama would only enjoy films about slavery or starring black actors. And to think that she suggested Leonardo DiCaprio’s departure from a role was “despicable”. 

Uber

Uber has been involved in no shortage of scandals, so you may wonder where we’re going with this. Remember that time a private conversation revealed an exec suggested digging up dirt on a journalist? The particular bit of leaked information we’re referring to in this instance came via founder Travis Kalanick in an email sent to some 400 members of staff in October 2013. Labelled as urgent, it opened with “You better read this or I'll kick your ass,” according to Recode. With an office party for all employees being thrown to celebrating launching in 50 cities, the email was sent as a guideline ahead of the bash at the Shore Club in Miami. Arguably the most shocking part of the message read: “Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic ‘YES! I will have sex with you’ AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML.” After controversy continued to haunt the company over the years, a tipping point was reached in June 2017 when investors “demanded” Kalanick stepped down as CEO.

Brand Beckham

David Beckham, the footballer turned businessman and all-round British icon, was victim of an image-shattering foul in 2017 when emails reportedly exchanged between him and his publicity team were unleashed into the wild as publicist Simon Oliveira was hacked. According to The Telegraph, the messages suggested that Beckham was engaged in charity work with the likes of Unicef, not out of the goodness of his heart like we all thought, but in a bid to win a knighthood as one heated email supposedly sent by him attacked those responsible for not recognising him. “They r a bunch of cunts. I expected nothing less. Who decides on the [honour?] It’s a disgrace to be honest and if I was American I would have got something like this ten years ago.” Another email suggested he wanted Unicef to contribute to the costs of staying at a luxury hotel during a campaign in Cambodia. This could have been a red card for Beckham but his team dismissed the aspersions cast upon his name. “This story is based on outdated material taken out of context from hacked and doctored private emails from a third party server and gives a deliberately inaccurate picture,” a spokesperson told The Telegraph. Despite the allegations. Beckham remains a national treasure and his work with Unicef continues.

Bunny Hill Weddings

Bunny Hill Weddings, the York-based wedding venue, found itself linked to a particularly offensive headline in October 2018. A bride-to-be took to Facebook to name and shame the business after receiving a derogatory email from company about her parents, which was clearly not intended for her, suggesting that they’re “socially retarded”. Sharon Wood, the owner of Bunny Hill Weddings, claimed a temporary member of staff was responsible for the email and had since been fired. Her explanation has done little to satisfy people, however, who have taken to Google reviews to slam the company with one-star ratings and comments such as “Unprofessional and liars” and “Mean and awful message. Avoiding this place.” Wood claims she has since received threats and has seemingly deleted the company’s Facebook page. "I'm in absolute pieces at the moment and just feel sick with it all," she said.

United Airlines

There you are sitting on a flight waiting to get to your destination when suddenly you find yourself bloody, dazed and manhandled. Nightmare right? This nightmare was very real for one United Airlines passenger though. It was reported that the flight was overbooked and the man in question didn’t want to leave his comfy seat – this resulted in him being physically dragged off the plane. United found itself butchered on social media after video footage of the melee went viral and it was immortalised by the power of the meme. In response to the incident, United CEO Oscar Munoz sent an email to employees. In it, he said the details were still developing but suggested “this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers.” He continued: “Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.” If that’s flying right, I’m sure many of us would rather keep our feet on the ground.

About the Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge

As editor, Terrelonge can be found on the hunt for all things startup and scaleup – that's when he's not busy talking babies via DADult Life. Whether it's health or hospitality, food or philanthropy, tech or travel, he'll be seeking out the most interesting entrepreneurial developments to run in the magazine and online.

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