Opinion

Sex, drugs, rock and roll: Can you trust your personal assistant?

3 min read

11 October 2015

Without your personal assistant (PA) you’d never get through the day and your world would grind to a halt. But would you trust him or her?

She runs your calendar like clockwork and anticipates your every need. He makes your coffee just the way you like it and has the papers ready for your next meeting before you’ve even asked for them. He gets you out of meetings that you don’t want to attend and she reminds you of your wedding anniversary.

Sounds pretty reliable, right? According to findings from Time etc, however, one in 20 small business managers said that their PAs have had sex and one in ten had done drugs in the office. Nearly a quarter had leaked confidential information, while 15 per cent had used the company credit card for personal use.

Filmmakers have had great fun with the sometimes difficult relationships between bosses and their PAs. In The Devil Wears Prada the young assistant of a nightmare fashion magazine editor finds herself close to stabbing her boss in the back, while the 1980s hit movie Working Girl saw an ambitious PA played by Melanie Griffiths exact revenge by pretending to be her superior after she was admitted to the hospital due to a skiing accident.

If you’re a celebrity you might feel even less comfortable about trusting your PA. The assistants of the rich and famous frequently spill the beans about the bizarre idiosyncrasies of their bosses. Most recently Lady Gaga’s Girl Friday is suing her former employer and has revealed how she was “required” to sleep in her ladyship’s bed “because she didn’t sleep alone.”

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Could the various tech companies who are vying with each other to launch electronic assistants be playing on this distrust? Just last month Apple announced it is bringing its virtual-assistant software, Siri, to the television set. Facebook has recently launched “M”, a personal concierge service as part of its messaging app, which helps users to buy things and organise their stuff.

So at least you can trust the assistant that appears on your mobile phone or your computer, right? Perhaps not. One of the reasons why tech firms are launching these products, commentators suggest, is that it allows them to gather useful personal information about the users.

Your electronic assistant can find out in even more detail about what you buy, what you like to eat, which movies you watch and where you prefer to go on holiday. Facebook’s M provides the company with insights into people’s commercial transactions that can be useful for advertisers.

So it seems that whether the person who runs your life is human or virtual, male or female, old or young you’ve just got to assume that you can trust them – most of the time anyway.