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I work in a tech company and we recently joined an incubator along with many other companies. We use slack for communication purposes.

I shared a link from an article in Bloomberg's website in the #random channel.

After that a coworker approached to me very upset and told me that I should not share links from Bloomberg because that is one of our sources for news and this could give information about how our company works, which would basically give information to our competitors (for competitors he meant the rest of the companies in the incubator).

I argued that Bloomberg is a public website that most business people already know and have access to and the link I shared did not contain any information relevant to our business model nor our operational scheme.

This person then argued that other companies in the incubator could create a "profile" (like a psychological profile) of our company, that they can now know the way we think and that they could hurt us. Then this person told me that given that we use to go to Bloomberg's website to read news this website is like an official "supplier" to us and that I cannot share information about our suppliers.

Facts:

  1. Bloomberg.com is a website that some of us access to read news about business and economics. It is not a company policy to do so, we use it if we want. We don't use Bloomberg for anything else, we use it to read news, that's it, the same way we visit The New York Times to read news or CNN to watch them.

  2. We do not have any business relationship with Bloomberg.

  3. We do not use Bloomberg's terminal for anything.

  4. This person discovered Bloomberg some months ago and for him was like the most revolutionary thing in business history.

  5. I asked this person to provide evidence to support his claims but he refuses and he tells me that "he has his reasons", "you don't understand me now", and "only time will tell if I was right".

  6. This person studied psychology but dropped. So he's not a psychologist.

  7. This person doesn't know anything about the stock market, neither the rest of the team. Our business model has nothing to do with the stock market either.

  8. He tells me that knowing that Bloomberg exists and reading news from there is a competitive advantage for us.

  9. He tells me that if we read news from Bloomberg's website that makes Bloomberg our source and supplier of information.

  10. He tells me that nobody should know any of us read Bloomberg.com or any other similar website.

My question

Is he right? Could another company hurt us in any way if they discover that we read business news at Bloomberg.com or any other similar website?

My personal opinion

I think this person is overreacting, I'm not sharing absolutely anything related to our business or operations (and certainly Elon Musk doesn't work here).

After sharing this link I got a positive response from others. People approached to me and a we ended up sharing thoughts about this topic and others. I think I'm building good business relationships with other companies and with the incubator's staff. I think that sharing common interests can build business opportunities and help us to stay relevant.

What do you think?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Jul 21 '17 at 15:05
  • Is the Slack shared between companies in the incubator? – Sam Weaver Jul 21 '17 at 15:42
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    You should explain to your co-worker that he can no longer visit the restrooms during working hours, as being seen doing so could allow the in-house competitors to profile your team! – Chris Stratton Jul 21 '17 at 18:54
  • what is an incubator? Besides the one for eggs dont have idea. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Jul 21 '17 at 21:36
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    Sharing the link with your clients sounds like a good idea. From your description your co-worker is not qualified technically or vocationally to work in an incubator or, indeed, any commercial organization. Points 4 & 7 are linked (massive ego problem) and point 9 is simply idiotic. Point 10 - practically everyone in a commercial company should read some business news and be able and willing to discuss what they read. Given two equally qualified candidates I'd hire hire the one most informed on business matters in news and able to discuss them intelligently. Keep reading and discussing. – StephenG Jul 22 '17 at 0:06
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If this person is not your boss or a decision maker in the organization I would ignore him. If he is your superior however, do what he says even if it does not make any sense.

You might want to run it past your boss just to assure yourself there is no problem. "Hey Boss, Coworker X thought that it would be a problem that I shared that article, but it seemed really helpful because it stimulated a good conversation regarding our widget business"

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    Good answer, but not sure if naming Coworker X is a good idea and serves the cause – le_daim Jul 19 '17 at 21:15
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    @le_daim Naming the coworker may help the boss decide. It is not the same if X is Bob the Secretary or Alice the Financial Analyst; and in case the boss is not completely sure about something he can ask X to elaborate the reasons behind the prohibition. And after all, even if the boss disagrees with X, it is not as if X has done anything terrible; the only charge could be about overstepping his responsabilities in a very minor issue and with the intention of helping the business. – SJuan76 Jul 20 '17 at 8:39
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    If it's your boss, I'd be on high alert. That kind of paranoia is a warning trigger that they're not confident in the value of the product. – deworde Jul 20 '17 at 10:55
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    @le_daim: A small startup can't afford to keep people like Coworker X on staff. They're a drain on the organization. Even if they had specialist skills, you can't afford to assign a babysitter. Given that he's a failed psychology student, replacing him/her is the obvious resolution. – MSalters Jul 20 '17 at 11:08
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    Don't gripe to the boss about complains from #random chats. The easy solution relative to the boss, is to cut off the #random chat rooms to avoid the drama entirely. – Freiheit Jul 20 '17 at 13:08
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Your coworker is a loon and isn't likely to change.

He tells me that nobody should know any of us read Bloomberg.com or any other similar website.

God forbid your competition figures out that your company likes to keep up to date with news and recent developments that might impact its activities.

He tells me that knowing that Bloomberg exists and reading news from there is a competitive advantage for us. [...] Could another company hurt us in any way if they discover that we read business news at Bloomberg.com or any other similar website?

No. While I largely agree with Beejamin's answer, I wouldn't even consider this a theoretical problem. Keeping an eye on a news market leader for your industry is completely and utterly normal. The very thought that "figuring this out" would somehow give your competition an edge, let alone that they wouldn't automatically assume that you do, is plainly ridiculous.


Now what?

So where does that leave you? Well, as mentioned your coworker is a loon and he's not going to change. His position is so bizarre that he's unlikely to be persuaded by fact or reason. But that's not really your concern as he's also just a coworker. The fact that he has some quaint ideas on what constitutes confidential information isn't your problem to solve.

Just ignore him and put it out of your mind. It sounds like you handled the initial exchange reasonably well by pushing back and not really committing to anything. Assume nothing more will come from it for now as there's no reason to escalate things at this point.

I asked this person to provide evidence to support his claims but he refuses and he tells me that "he has his reasons", "you don't understand me now", and "only time will tell if I was right".

Good. That means you can safely ignore him and his advice and it gives you a good way to shut him down if he brings it up again. You can go for any variation of "I know you consider this an issue but I really can't imagine that sharing these kinds of articles is a problem and you haven't given me any reason to think otherwise."

But if that doesn't work and he ends up confronting you again or asks you to follow his delusion you'll need to shut him down more aggressively. If "we'll have to agree to disagree" doesn't work on him it's time to involve either your or his manager to explain the situation. At that point you can follow cheshire's answer on how to bring this up with your manager. You'd be giving more weight to his theories than you really should, but it's the professional way to frame a conversation like this to your manager: don't judge or condemn but just lay out the facts and how the situation is affecting you or your work.


My first statement here is paraphrasing Alison Green from Ask a Manager.

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    I like this - it's the less-diplomatic, no-bullshit complement to my answer - aka the one I'd likely to use myself in this situation! – Beejamin Jul 20 '17 at 13:09
  • Do you read AAM by chance? :) – MissMonicaE Jul 20 '17 at 16:46
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    @MissMonicaE I do indeed, and I'm currently the top scorer when it comes to referencing the site here. :) I've added an attribution since it's pretty blatantly borrowed from Alison. – Lilienthal Jul 20 '17 at 18:42
  • @Lilienthal "Your coworker is a loon and isn't likely to change" gave it away :) – MissMonicaE Jul 20 '17 at 20:22
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    "is a competitive advantage for us" -- specifically, the colleague seems to have confused "advantageous compared with not doing it", with "advantageous compared with the competition". The competition certainly knows Bloomberg exists, and if they don't get news from there it's that they disagree with this company, and think actually there's better alternatives. Just because something is a good idea, doesn't make it a competitive advantage. – Steve Jessop Jul 23 '17 at 1:09
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I started writing this as a comment, but it got a bit long. Consider this a partial answer.

In short, he's right in theory, but wrong for all practical intents, and you should ignore him.

It is theoretically possible for your competition to build up a profile of your business, based on anything visible that your company does - not just your slack posts - and from that, it is theoretically possible for them to draw inferences that enable them to do things that reduce some advantage you have over them.

Now, whether your competition are actually going to spend the resources on something so nebulous is a completely different question. It's a resource-intensive task, and has no guarantee of yielding anything useful. If they are doing this, they're either wasting resources (let them, if they're really your competition), or so over-resourced that you're going to have trouble with them anyway.

To look at it from the other side, if your advantages are so small that they can be undone by your competition analysing your semi-public slack log, you're already in trouble.

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    "Now, whether your competition are actually going to spend the resources on something so nebulous" - they're not, if they really wondered what you are doing they would take one chatty coworker out for drinks. – TessellatingHeckler Jul 20 '17 at 17:00
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    If the OP is in competition with other companies in the incubator, then the OP might be in the wrong incubator. – Qsigma Jul 21 '17 at 9:44
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    Especially for companies at the stage where an incubator makes sense-- they should be focusing on building a product and finding market fit. It is not the right time for overanalyzing the competition. – pkaeding Jul 21 '17 at 21:33
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As @JasonJ states, run it by your boss but I wouldn't mention that a specific person had issue with it.

Rather, I'd start by saying how it led to a nice discussion but there was a concern about the post divulging too much information about the company and ask if there are any guidelines your boss wants you to follow when posting and sharing links on the #random channel.

If so, those should be written up and distributed throughout the office so everyone (including the coworker who raised concerns) is on the same page. Then, if this coworker complains again, you can refer to the guidelines and he/she can take it up with the boss if they so choose.

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    Anyone want to put money on the boss's answer being "Just use your common sense"? – Beejamin Jul 20 '17 at 1:27
  • @Beejamin I agree but based off OP's comments, it sounded like they wanted to make a point to the coworker. This is a way to do it without calling them out directly. – cheshire Jul 20 '17 at 1:52
  • oh, definitely - your answer is absolutely valid and a good approach, even if the boss's response is "use your common sense". – Beejamin Jul 20 '17 at 1:54
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    Honestly, given the level of lunacy involved, even humouring this colleague by pretending to take it seriously would not be something I'd recommend doing. – Lilienthal Jul 20 '17 at 6:42
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Companies don't join an incubator for one to win and rest to lose. While some may benefit more than others, the main goal is for all to share and for all to rise with the tide. The sharing also usually correlates with ones benefits as you have seen by receiving valuable discussions after sharing the article. Of course there are exceptions.

And even the more established companies and enterpreneurs spread their knowledge arround. You might have your secrets on some aspects but good sources of information is not that. It's actually something that you want every peer in your industry to know.

I think this answers your questions - your pal has misunderstood commercial secrets or has read about some special (extreme) cases and surely doesn't see the peers as being in the same fleet. It doesn't mean he's dumb but in this case the behaviour is actually delusional.

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which would basically give information to our competitors (for competitors he meant the rest of the companies in the incubator).

On the one hand, in most incubators you hope and expect every project to succeed individually, and as incubators usually have projects in related fields going on simultaneously it's useful to share information that other projects will use. Particularly in the hope that they too will share information that you may find of use.

However, there is an element of competition. Where a lot of projects are vying for similar funding sources, and in fact are often pitted against each other depending on how the incubator brings investors to the table, you may find that your very good project is eclipsed by someone else's even better project.

There's a balance between news that is very specific to your operation, and news that has general applicability to others and doesn't give heavy insight into yours. An obscure article in some out of the way journal that directly addresses the space you're in probably shouldn't be shared. An article from a major news organization that several other news organizations have also written about should pose no risk to you.

An article published by only one news organization, in one of their minor sections, might fall on one side of the line or the other.

What you've discovered is that your colleague has a different standard than you, and has judged that specific article to be more specialized than you have.

It's worth having a discussion with them, trying to understand their perspective to make sure you haven't missed something, but unless they are your superior I wouldn't put too much weight on their assessment if, after understanding their position, you still feel it doesn't harm your project.

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Despite the other answers suggesting your coworker is overly concerned, the competition is usually too focused on their own products/services to do anything with the competitive information that could be gleaned from sharing links. Sharing links and thoughts on those links could lead to others learning about your overall strategy for your company but this is not a real danger.

Usually when you see the insides and organizational (in)ability of your competitors, you'll feel a little safer and relieved that they're struggling just as much as you are to strike it rich!

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Seems to me that your coworker is right. Of course I am assuming that s/he can control the rest of the world's access to Google, Bing and any number of other internet search sites and/or has the technical ability to hack in and set up filters that will surreptitiously delete all references to Bloomberg in any search being performed :-) Would he be the leader of NK, by any chance?

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He might be one of those paranoia that knows about websites having the ability to track users' usage behavior. Bloomberg is a huge website, I'm sure they collect user browsing data one way or another. They could potentially collect and analyze what folks at your company are interested the most (e.g., which pages, categories, authors are most clicked/viewed). It could just be over reacting depending what kind of analytics data they can get out of those who open the links you share and browse Bloomberg website.

Edit: I'm not saying that Bloomberg is the competitor. However, they can sell raw or analyzed user data to any other companies including the potential competitors.

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    The OP's competitor is not Bloomberg. – Andrew Morton Jul 20 '17 at 8:15
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    Besides, the issue raised by the coworker was not about using Bloomberg but disclosing that he is using Bloomberg. This answer is not relevant to the question asked. – zakinster Jul 20 '17 at 9:44
  • I am aware that Bloomberg is not the competitor. From my understanding, his colleague concern was that Bloomberg can potentially sell user data from the folks at his company that browse Bloomberg's website to other companies that might be the competitors. – frostshoxx Jul 20 '17 at 14:09
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    The problem is not using Bloomberg. The concern of my coworker is not Bloomberg selling information about us. The concern is that others know that we use Bloomberg or other similar websites to read news. – Andres Root Jul 20 '17 at 17:06
  • I see.. In that case, the guy is nuts then. – frostshoxx Jul 20 '17 at 21:30

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