Making a Joke of Journalistic Integrity: FT reporter suspended following allegations of eavesdropping on Zoom meetings

May 25, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

Financial Times reporter, Mark Di Stefano, has been suspended following allegations of infiltrating and listening into private Zoom meetings. These meetings were held by senior managers of the Independent and the Evening Standard to discuss the steps that would be taken to combat the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

What does this mean?

Stefano was suspended following a complaint by senior members of the Independent to the Financial Times and a subsequent investigation. While the  Financial Times declined to comment, Christian Broughton, the Independent editor, said that he respects freedom of speech but “the Independent considers the presence of a third-party journalist in a staff briefing to be entirely inappropriate and an unwarranted intrusion into our employees’ privacy”.

The Independent alleges that Stefano gained access to the calls and used this information to: tweet news of the meetings, write the story published by the Financial Times on the measures to be introduced by the Evening Standard, and leak the cuts being made at the Independent on the Financial Times daily live blog.

Evidence of Stefano’s actions comes in the form of statements by journalists on the call who allege that they saw Stefano’s name pop up briefly as an audio only user on the call. This account immediately left and was replaced by an anonymous account which remained until the end of the meeting. The Independent claims that the Zoom log files show that Stefano’s Financial Times email address joined the call at the Independent for 16 seconds. The anonymous account, which remained on the call, was supposedly later shown to be linked to a mobile phone using the same email address.  

What's the big picture effect?

While we do not know how Stefano gained access to the private calls, this story should ring alarm bells for all Zoom users. I will however be focusing on the effect on law firms. 

In the current worldwide crisis, Zoom has been adopted by many law firms as an aid to working from home. It provides a quick and easy alternative to face to face meetings and has even been successfully used in mediation and arbitration exercises. It will therefore come as a shock to the industry that a call which discusses very commercially sensitive subjects could be infiltrated by an anonymous account. Leaking of work that corporate teams do such as work leading up to an initial public offering (listing the company on the stock market) could lead to catastrophic consequences such as allegations and investigations into insider trading.

Law firms should also be concerned about information being leaked to competitors regarding preparation for lucrative tenders. If the fee estimates of a law firms’ tender proposal is known to its competitors, this could very well lead to a deliberate price undercut by the competitor which is clearly anti-competitive by nature.

So, could we be seeing the end of Zoom? It is unlikely that this one instance will make a significant impact on the choice of businesses and individuals alike to use Zoom now and in the future. On the other hand, if more and more of these cases arise, I anticipate we will see new companies being formed; providing an alternative video conferencing system to Zoom based on the selling point that they are more secure.

Report written by Mohammad Hammoud

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