Surreptitiously Tape Overseas Meetings And Have Them Translated Later

Surreptitiously Tape Overseas Meetings And Have Them Translated Later

I’m not entirely convinced that this is a wise idea, but apparently it happened. Technology entrepreneur Ruslan Kogan says that if you’re having business meetings in China, taping them and having them translated online can sometimes give you an edge in negotiations.

Picture by Allen Sima

In a post for TechCrunch, Kogan shares his tips on doing business in China (where virtually all of Kogan’s product is sourced, though in the modern world that’s hardly a unique point of distinction). One tip concerns how to deal with a meeting where you don’t speak the native language.

Kogan had been meeting with a team of executives, only one of whom spoke English. Between his translated comments, the executives frequently spoke amongst themselves, with much laughter. Kogan was curious as to what they were saying, but had no tactics for getting a translation until an idea occurred to him:

While they were having a chat and a giggle, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and switched on the voice recorder. I then casually put the phone down on the table and recorded the whole meeting. As soon as I got back to my hotel room, I uploaded the audio file and then posted a translator job on a few online job boards. Within a few hours, I had received full transcripts of the entire meeting — including their “private” discussions. I now knew all their pricing, the strategy they were using against me and more importantly, what the lowest price they were willing to deal at was. With some quick lateral thinking, I had gained a significant advantage in the negotiation.

This is a clear candidate for our dark side tag: tactics which are questionable even if they can sometimes be applied legitimately. Obviously, the completely ethical way to handle this is to alert people of the taping ahead of time (you can always say you want to be able to review the contents later). Of course, once you’ve done that, those you meet with are less likely to attempt interesting side conversations.

The flip side is that if the managers hadn’t indulged in the (by Western standards) rude behaviour of conducting a conversation in an unknown language, they wouldn’t have exposed their strategy. Business can be nasty.

Doing Deals In China [TechCrunch]


  • I’ve no doubt that the applicable law is different if you’re actually overseas, but here in NSW it’s very clear-cut: any recording made of a conversation (including telephone conversation) without the required amount of forewarning is strictly illegal.

    Even if it’s a meeting in person, the NSW Listening Devices Act 1984 as the governing law.

    Section 5(1) provides a general prohibition against recording private conversations. However there’s an exception exception in s5(3)(b)(ii), which states that IF you are a party to a conversation, AND a “principal party” to the conversation consents to the listening device being used, AND the recording goes no further than the parties to the conversation THEN it’s OK to record.

    It’s a good thing Kogan was doing his recording outside of NSW. Wonder what the Chinese legal position is on this?

  • When I used to travel to Taiwan we took a caucasian who spoke Mandarin for this edge. Hardest part is getting past the check they made to see if anyone understood. Poker face required.

  • This tactic is a bigger risk to your company than the potential gains from it, especially when your whole business is based out of China. All it takes is someone in the Chinese government deciding that they don’t like you and they can shut you down.

    And posting about it publicly… I’d have thought Ruslan was smarter than that.

    • +1, it is incredibly stupid for him to have said this publicly. Even if the Chinese government decides to turn a blind eye this time, he won’t ever get away with doing it again.

  • Don’t know about legalities but have always done this and strongly agree with it. You can even get a new perspective on how your own interpreter translates things and find out what sort of mistakes they’re making.

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