Keeping confidential the impending sale of your business Part 2 of 3:
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(Part II of III)

Precautions That Technology Has Forced On Us

Hitherto cutting edge advice on, for example, picking up answerphone messages before staff do and moving the fax machine into our private office are hopelessly outdated.

To protect against unauthorised access today we need to ensure that we don’t leave our mobiles in the wrong place, don’t log into email at someone else’s workstation and don’t have conversations about the sale while standing under CCTV cameras.

But those are just the most basic common sense precautions. We need to go further.

1. Devices

The oft quoted line is that "The biggest risk to you and your company's privacy is your smartphone." That applies just as much to this Big Secret you wish to protect​.

Most of us don't bother reading terms and conditions when downloading apps. The default then is that we often allow broad access and unwittingly give apps intrusive and unnecessary ability to read our text messages, monitor our complete movements over the day, trawl data on who we've been calling and when, even access our microphones to listen in on our "real life" conversations.

We need to know what information our phone and tablet apps are accessing and what risks these pose. Or not use these devices for the duration.

2. Free Services

Technology has brought us great advances. You now have algorithms that calculate (or claim to calculate) the value of your business. Then there are sellability scores - questionaires that take you through a few queries before telling you how sellable your business is.

All very appealing to the business owner looking to sell. And all very dangerous.

For any of those services you need to provide data. And it's amazing how many business owners use these services without even an NDA!

"It's only a computer that's getting my details," they say. Yes, but that computer is storing everything you enter into a database for its owner to make use of later.

"But it's alright to use these services if I provide no personally identifiable data," they later plead complete unaware of how de- anonymising of data works and that just three to four points of reference are required to associate your name with the searches you've done and the content with which you've engaged.

3. Networks

No savvy business owner would post their confidential strategic plans on a social network or forum, but it’s surprising how many fail to appreciate just how public the private chat at these venues can be.

Chat room discussions are often auto-saved; they don’t disappear when you log off. Site owners of forums have easy access to private messages & direct messages exchanged on their platforms.

The likes of social networks, too, have access to these “private” messages created on, saved on or transmitted through their websites.

And there are, of course, simple mistakes like the tweet sent out unwittingly by the CEO of a well known company (who shall not be named) who thought the message was going out to a private group but which message ended up broadcast to the whole world.

It’s a good idea to avoid all discussion about this matter on any social networking site and to avoid using these platforms, or any online service, including Skype, WeChat and Whatsapp, for conversations with advisers or potential advisers.

But the biggest risk of all is the least understood

In a recent news story a father rang a supermarket to complain that his daughter was getting the wrong type of junk mail. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

A few days later he called back to apologise. It turns out that though neither he nor his daughter knew it, she was indeed pregnant!

How did the store know before even the girl knew?

Clever software. Software that can analyse the smallest change in shopping habits and correlate that data with changes other shoppers displayed in the past. From there it's often possible to predict future buying patterns with a high degree of accuracy.

What does that have to do with selling a business?

Clever software can work out that you're thinking of selling! And can do so simply from minor changes in your browsing habits. You don't need to actually visit a site and use a business valuation tool ... or fill a form on a business broker's page!

We need to adapt to a new reality: a world in which online tracking, behaviour analysis and neural networks meet data mining, predictive software and smart algorithms.

Let me assure you first that there's no such tracking on this site. If you analyse this page (or any other page of this site) all you'll find is the Google Analytics code I use to track my traffic levels and give subscribers the content not disclosed to the general public.

No personal identification, no third party cookies, no beacons, no advertisers, no flash cookies, no "re-marketing" (those creepy ads that follow you around), no reverse IP checks, no "sharing" data with other companies or combining my data with theirs to reveal your identity, nothing!

But this site is an exception as you'll discover if you install a tool like Ghostery or uBlock Origin to your browser.

Part III: The biggest risk and how you can protect against it >>