Whose Social Media Account Is It Anyway?

As a result of the rapid shift in marketing from unilateral one-to-many communications, to the multilateral, many-to-many or many-to-one conversations enabled by Social Media, employees and employers are struggling to manage accounts that are used for both work and personal purposes.

This new phenomenon has benefits, but it also creates a number of legal challenges. For employees, it may result in greater efficiency, more opportunities for authentic customers engagement and the ability to stay on top of the most current grands and business issues. For employers, it presents opportunity to reap substantial benefits from lower communications and customer support costs. For in-house counsel, it raises a host of legal and practical issues with few easy solutions and significant liability and regulatory risks.

First, there are hardware issues. Smartphones, tablets and other personal electronics often have social networking capabilities built in. in addition, they contain contain both personal and business data. Because these devices are always on and always connected, they are more than just personal property. They have become essential business tools. For both sides of the workplace equation, employers and employees must understand where the privacy lines fall between personal versus work-related information.

Second, there are data issues. Employers must balance their needs to monitor employee usage, employees’ privacy concerns, and the risk of liability for theft or exposure of data if a device is lost or stolen, or from lack of proper safeguards on account usage. For in-house counsel tasked with drafting policies to address these risks, , Prior to implementation of any policy, the legal team needs to educate front line employees and management on reasonable expectations of privacy and security and the harms that the organization seeks to prevent.

Lastly, recent cases such as the Cristou v. Beatport litigation, highlight the struggle to define and control the beginning and end of employee social media accounts, ownership and protection of intellectual property and the post termination risks that arise from the absence of appropriate policies.

As we prepare to start a new year, the time is ripe to establish security and privacy policies governing creation, maintenance and use of employees’ social media accounts for work functions. In-house counsel must lead the charge to educate, inform and train employees about privacy, security and evidence-recovery implications associated with use of social media.

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