Skip to content
Naked Security Naked Security

Why the airplane romance that went viral should worry everyone

Covert footage taken of two strangers on a plane went viral as people mooned over The Lovebirds In The Air (And Mucho Spying) Affair.

Last week, a woman named Helen (she asked that her last name not be published, for reasons that will soon be clear to anybody who favors privacy over virally inflicted fame) got on a plane in New York, heading for Texas, and left her privacy on the tarmac.
It all began when a lady with a sweet Southern drawl asked to switch seats so she could sit next to her boyfriend.
Sure. Good deed for the day, Helen must have thought. Why not?
So Helen swapped seats and wound up sitting next to an attractive guy with whom she shared conversation, including showing each other family photos on their cell phones.
I know this, and the internet knows this, because along with her boyfriend, the woman who made the request – her name is Rosey Blair – sat in the row behind Helen, whose privacy the couple was about to roto-rooter.
Blair and her boyfriend, Houston Hardaway, began to chronicle – and publicly post, through photos, videos and commentary – Every. Single. Move. Those. Two. People. Made. …And to interpret every one of those moves, slathering their own alternatively romantic/lascivious storyline onto the interactions of two people they’d never met and whose motivations they could only guess at, like so much sweetened-lard frosting on a cardiac-arrest wedding cake.
If you don’t feel like reading through the entire, gut-churningly invasive, privacy-spurning soap opera of tweets they posted, which racked up hundreds of thousands of retweets, comments and likes from all the other utter strangers who posted their open-mouthed “FOLLOWING!” fascination, the spying/doxxing saga basically goes along the lines of “Are you talking to the guy you sat next to? What, you’re both fitness gurus?! OMG, heart-heart-heart, he’s HOTTTTTTTTT!!! Hey, your hair was up, but then you let your hair down when you went to the bathroom!! Look: they’re touching elbows!!! Is this going to lead to love? Marriage? Acceptance into the mile-high club?!!!”
This is the age we live in: Mr. and Ms. Anybody With A Smart Phone consider it their God-given right to conduct surveillance on anybody they want to, including eavesdropping and doxxing, as in, public dissemination of the surveillance footage without permission, simply because they’ve spun their own little fairytale outcome, want to play private eye, and have the surveillance equipment to cook up their trail of clues …all this, over a potential hookup on an airplane.
Blair continued to buy WiFi time to keep the saga going during the flight. The likes, shares and comments ticked ever upward. We soon found out the identity of hot-guy seatmate: it turned out to be Euan Holden, a personal trainer who laughed it off when Blair sent him the Tweet thread she published last week.

Holden obviously didn’t mind having his privacy invaded in this fashion. In fact, he, Blair and Hardaway made an appearance on NBC’s TODAY TV show to talk about the “Modern fairy tale,” the “Matchmaker passengers who detailed viral airplane love story” and “just how this budding romance unfolded.”

As TODAY reported, more than three-quarters of a million people fell in love with the saga of these purported lovebirds.
You might notice a hole in this story. You might notice that it’s a Cinderella story, in fact, with the internet searching for the pretty girl who wore the crystal airbuds or something like that. Helen has chosen not to go public and, for the most part, but, unfortunately, not entirely, hasn’t been identified.
That hasn’t kept Blair from posting a video saying that she and Hardaway don’t have Helen’s “permish” – “Not YET, y’all!” Here they are, waving their fingers about that:
But pretty clearly goading their followers on to find out Helen’s identity:

You guys are sneaky. I think you might…

“Don’t encourage them,” Blair’s boyfriend admonishes her, but that’s a bit too little and a whole lot too late.
While Blair did obscure Helen’s face, it wasn’t particularly good obfuscation. In fact, in short order, Helen was reportedly tracked down and harassed when people discovered her identity, posting onto her personal Instagram feed:

Lol you blew that guy in the bathroom. Skank
Helen can thank Blair for that crass attack: she implied that she and Holden had sex in the bathroom when they both got out of their seats at the same time.
Ella Dawson, a journalist who accidentally, unwillingly stumbled into viral fame herself early in her career when she wrote a post about the difficulties of dating with genital herpes, has written an essay about the Love In The Air Spying Affair that’s scathingly on-point about how the ongoing division between private and public has been steadily eroding for some time now. As she puts it:

None of this was her doing, her choice. No one asked her if she had any reservations or concerns about being made part of a modern romantic comedy. All she did was board a plane and chat with her seatmate. Now she is a public figure, a hashtag, a target. Millions of strangers on the internet want to know about her new fictional relationship. No one understands why she is so afraid. Or maybe she isn’t afraid. How could I know? I don’t know this woman either.

Maybe Helen isn’t afraid. Maybe she is. Maybe she’s withdrawn from social media altogether, as some on Twitter say. Who could blame her if she had, given attacks like that one scrawled on her Instagram photo? Or maybe she’s “slowly coming out of her shell,” as others say. Maybe the couple will date more. Maybe they’ll get married and have babies. Maybe they’ll move to Hollywood and get cast in a rom-com. Maybe they’ll sue Blair for illegal surveillance.
Who cares? And whose business is it, anyway?
Apparently, much of the internet thinks it’s very much their business. Welcome to the future, citizen, where you don’t have to worry whether the National Security Agency or FBI or CIA or local police are running surveillance so they can analyze your every move: instead, the work has been assumed by anybody with a gadget in their hand.


Lisa, Thank you so much for this article. I was disgusted to see the invasion of these people’s privacy that resulted from one of them being nice and switching seats. I’m stunned that almost no media outlets (or people in general) see any problem with this. I would be furious if a random stranger decided to document me. I really don’t like what social media has done to society. For so many people it’s all about the “likes” with no regard for actual life.


I agree with you completely. I don’t understand how people can think this is acceptable. Ironically, Big Brother is coming but it’s not any government. With the introduction of more and smaller cameras it’s getting more difficult to tell if you are under surveillance and thanks to people like Rosey Blair you probably are.


“Big Brother is coming but it’s not any government” – yes, this. I’m pretty sure Alvin Toffler had something to say about it. I recall him referring to the proliferation of surveillance devices among us all as “little brother”, but I can’t for the life of me find the reference now.


They are out in a public place. There is no objective expectation of privacy. Was it rude? Sure. Do people take things too far? Absolutely. But to claim it’s “privacy-spurning” is flat out wrong.


Actually, I think “spurning” is a very well-chosen word here, if my New Oxford American Dictionary is to be believed. It tells me that if I spurn something – such as you, or your comment, or even your privacy, then I “reject it with disdain and contempt.”
Disdain is a word that seems to fit this self-proclaimed Texas drama queen fairly well. She could do with learn her some grammer, too.
After all, if both of the people being tweeted about were cool with it, there would be nothing to lose in asking, because they’d say, “Sure.” The only reason not to ask is prurience.


Article 12 of the 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Krug, you are wrong. When it comes to the “objective expectation of privacy”, much depends on the where, when, how, what. In this sad situation, the objective expectation of privacy is that only the people on the plane, and then only some of them, be aware of what was happening. As for what they were doing with their phones, what was stored on them, what they’re saying to each other, the objective expectation of privacy is far, far higher.
We are all in public places, every single day. Many of those places have security cameras, and properly authorised people watching those security cameras. But we rightly expect that the people using those cameras not record what that they are seeing for public sharing and commentary.


An airplane is private property, it is not *public space*. Even if it were, the actions here rise above simple filming to harassment, slander, libel and possibly a host of other things including violating federal wiretapping laws. Someone having a private conversation even in a public space can have an expectation of privacy and courts have thrown out police evidence on this grounds. The couple filming this better hope the woman doesn’t sue.


While I think most people will see this as a mostly innocent story with no ill intent, and after hearing about it myself briefly, I can say I never considered this side of it. I appreciate the viewpoint. Something we should all consider when posting things online, but rarely does anyone stop to consider the larger implications.


The thing with online privacy and security is that “having no ill intent” simply isn’t good enough.
None of the very many global brands that have spilled their own customers’ personal information over the past few years “had ill intent”, but that’s cold comfort to the victims of identity theft that was made posible because of those breaches.
Here’s what we said in our Christmas 2015 holiday season security tips:
We’re urging you not to publish snaps of other people without asking them first.
Even if it’s a selfie with your BFF in front of the {Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House, Table Mountain, London Eye, Statue of Liberty, Christ the Redeemer, Great Wall of China}, get in the habit of asking, “Do you mind if I Facebook this one?” or “Is it OK if I upload this to Instagram?”
It’s a small courtesy, but it shows you care about other people’s privacy – and we think that’s a great example to set.


In my world, we’re required by law to get a signed release waiver from every human being, in EVERY photo we take, granting us permission BEFORE we can use their image…. even it it will only be seen by 5 other people. I can’t believe what I’m about to say, but I hope Helen is “lawyering up”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to get the latest updates in your inbox.
Which categories are you interested in?
You’re now subscribed!