Employee Abuse of Social Media in Compromising Employer Business Proprietary Information
By Kathleen Pohlid Founder & Managing Member, Pohlid, PLLC | February 03, 2013
Trade secrets – employee and customer lists, financial and marketing information, research and development data – this is prized information to any business. Keeping this information secret gives a business the competitive edge. Compromising that secrecy, especially to a competitor, can be very costly. Employee access to technology and use of social media presents challenges to businesses seeking to protect trade secrets. Overly broad restrictions on employee use of social media may be deemed illegal. Conversely, a lack of effective measures to address the problem leaves a business vulnerable. This article examines measures employers can take to protect business proprietary information.
Social media presents many opportunities for businesses to promote their services, to engage with potential and existing customers, and to involve employees in the business success. However, there is a potential for abuse and the possibility that employees can use social media to compromise an employer's trade secrets or business proprietary information. It is important for employers to be aware of these risks and the measures that can be taken to protect their business trade secrets.
Imagine if an employee (current or former) discloses via social media (such as an Internet blog, chat room, Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter, or other communication network) the identities of clients the business desires to keep confidential. Or, perhaps the employee seeks to use social media to express complaints about their workplace and in doing so publicly discloses information about employee names and salaries that the employer considers confidential. Employers who desire to protect their trade secrets should be prepared to address the challenges that social media poses to their business and workplace.
What are Trade Secrets?
The first start in addressing protection of trade secrets is for the business to determine what its trade secrets are. Trade secrets or business proprietary information may comprise a variety of types of information and data, including customer lists, computer software programs/data, research and development information, pricing, suppliers, marketing and manufacturing plans, financial information, employee lists and other information which businesses seek to protect from disclosure in order to provide an advantage to their business. Trade secrets are determined according to various state laws and derive their benefit from the information being kept secret. This is distinguished from patents, which are publicly disclosed and enforced by federal law
Significance of Trade Secret Protection