Unreachability management - when time matters

A mask preserves your privacy.

A mask preserves your privacy.

This article describes a concept for controlling personal reachability while maintaining a high degree of privacy and data protection. By easy negotiation of their communication requests, people can reach others without disturbing the called partners and without compromising their own privacy. (*)

Sometimes, you have to disappear from meetings and conferences.

Be it just due to the conference nerds who decided to skip lunch break for a deeper discussion of the absolute deadlock they got themselves caught into.

Be it to escape from a “working dinner”, which in practice simply prolongs the last discussion while spoiling the food experience.

Be it superiors who are bugging their team with late-night working sessions all over the conference hotel.

Or maybe you just wish to trade time from some irrelevant meeting session for some relaxation and activities you found on ABC4Trip?

Your choice of measures then is Unreachability Management.

The art of escaping from meetings requires four carefully deployed skills:

  1. Unsuspicious appearance (because nobody will even notice that you haven’t been there at all);
  2. Unsuspicious disappearance;
  3. Unreachability management;
  4. Good explainations/excuses.

This article focuses on skill number three – not being found.

Physical unreachability

Most conferences happen in or around a hotel. Disappearing there is a difficult task. What place should you disappear to which wouldn’t come up to your colleague’s mind right away? Hotel rooms, hotel bars, vehicles, or restrooms are obvious choices. These will not help if someone is dedicated to find you. The best choices are:

  • Disappear to someone else’s room (e.g. for an article writing session)!
  • Take strategic advantage of parallel sessions on the meeting – each of the sessions will easily believe that you went to one of the other parallel talk. And vice versa.
  • Leave the hotel, and find yourself a small, hard-to-find café. A rental car helps efficiently to increase distance to the meeting.

Mobile phone unreachability

Mobile phones are the prime source of unwanted reachability. Unfortunately, about everyone expects you to take your calls, and even worse, most people use the same numbers for business and private calls. Handle your mobiles with care!

  • Turn the mobile off, or switch to a private phone card for further reachability! Don’t create any betraying traces on the company phone bill by using the office mobile while you’re disappeared. The bill will prove all your excuses wrong later! So do rogue iPhone apps that publish your GPS position to cool web communities.
  • People might use your office phone to reach you while being absent. Prevent that the re-dial-button can be used by curious colleagues to trace your contacts. Delete the call history when you leave for a trip! There are stories being told of calls coming from a phone in an office in a suspicious context late at night, ringing secret and private numbers. Interestingly, the calls were done while all employees attended a party. Additionally, the caller was heavily breathing like a sex offender, while not stating the name, although calling twice this night. The open question is whether you should distrust the cleaning staff or whether someone up the hierarchy misused access credentials to the room.
  • Don’t pick up phone calls to your mobile with unknown or hidden phone numbers! Most likely, it’s the guy looking for you who is hiding his own number or using the hotel phone to lure you.
  • Configure your voice mail box with randomly used announcements (errors, absence, other people’s voices).
  • Forward your mobile to. e.g., the hotel reception. That way, you’ll be honourably excused from checking your voicemail, but won’t miss a really important message either.
  • … or, simply ‘forget’ to charge the mobile.

Selective e-mail reception

Should you work with your e-mail while unreachable, be aware of three important things:

  1. Your system administrator can see your log-ins to the mail server in the log file – with time stamps.
  2. You might accidentally send out a reading confirmation if your e-mail client is configured that way.
  3. You might, possibly in error, answer to an e-mail, a distribution list or a web community message that will end up straight in your colleagues, bosses’ or project leaders mail box – which will make them wonder where you are while they meet.

Selective group calendar management

In case your work group uses a groupware tool with a shared calendar (iCal, Outlook, or similar systems), special care is needed weeks before disappearing. Some of these systems even synchronize right into your mobile phone calendar, and back from the phone to the server. Memorize the following points:

  • When sharing your calendar with colleagues, they can possibly see your alternatives planned into your calendar. Even when they’re marked “private”, they’ll see a gray block for the time booked in your calendar. Better: Set a private 15-minute-appointment with a title keyword only you can interpret – or call it openly “phone conference” for project X.
  • Upon spontaneous entry of new appointments into your mobile calendar, they might instantly get synchronized back into the work group calendar. Workaround: Turn mobile calendar sync off for the meeting time, and delete the calendar entries before you turn synchronization back on.
  • Colleagues from inside and outside your organization can send you appointment messages. Don’t accidentally confirm or put them into the calendar – the sender will get a confirmation e-mail, and possibly the groupware server will show your confirmation to all invited meeting attendants! Check your groupware client and mobile client setup – auto-accept of appointments can be turned off!

Instant messengers and web communities camouflage

Yes, this section is about Twitter, Facebook, Skype shouts, log-ins to messenger, and uploads to whatever web community of your choice. There isn’t much advice for this one, except:

  • Don’t do it; or
  • Fake.

Tweets and shouts about you hanging out in a cool bistro in the medieval old town of your meeting place is the fastest way of signaling home that, next time, someone more reliable should travel to the conference. Tweets and shouts – if set – should always indicate hard work, meeting participation, or topical inspiration. Avoid uploading things to Facebook and other communities between 8:00 and 16:00 – and in addition, use a tool like EXIFtool to fake the dates and timestamps in uploaded photos (otherwise they will betray you). If your colleagues are beginning to look at shouts and tweets too closely, sabotage them with a tool that auto-shouts or tweets default shouts from a file every 2 minutes.

Limitation of witnesses

Simply don’t be seen by anyone who shouldn’t be concerned about your whereabouts. This includes other meeting participants, illoyal colleagues, or conference and hotel staff (though the latter usually has a certain professional discretion).

General advice for the limitation of witness risk:

  • Be invisible, or
  • Bribe and collaborate (buy drinks, use your superior information to provide them with side trips, ask them to distract those that shouldn’t see you, …)
  • Install a single point of contact (SPOC) at your organisation. Let this person be your proxy while travelling. No one then has an excuse to call you directly – and in consequence, no one needs to know where you are.

And now for something completely different.

The instructional film called “How not to be seen” by Monty Python is always worth watching!


(*) Reichenbach et al: Individual Management of Personal Reachability in Mobile Communication, in: Louise Yngström, Jan Carlsen (ed.): Information Security in Research and Business; IFIP TC11 13th international conference on Information Security (SEC ‘97), 14 – 16 May 1997, Copenhagen, Denmark, ISBN 0 412 81780 2, p. 164 – 174, Chapman & Hall, May 1997

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1 comment to Unreachability management – when time matters

  • Great article, I love it! I like to point out that the one particular PhD student who on a meeting occasion in Arona brought along the one guy everyone else was hiding from in a tiny wine bar has still not paid his debt – a bottle of wine to the rest of the meeting!


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