Do You Own Your Social Networking Friends? Or Does Your Employer?

from the do-you-own-your-rolodex? dept

In the sales world, you’re often judged on the size and quality of your “rolodex” of contacts. No one expects a salesperson jumping from one job to another to somehow “forget” everyone they know — or to cough up their entire list of contacts to the previous company. Yet that seems to be what happened in the UK. Slashdot points us to the news of a court ruling where a guy was forced to give up his LinkedIn contact list to his former employer after he left the company to start his own business. In this case, the original company had actively encouraged its employees to make use of LinkedIn, even though it was under the individual’s control, rather than the employer’s.

Expect to see plenty more lawsuits like this going forward. For many users of social networks from LinkedIn to MySpace to Facebook, the connections you make blur the lines between professional and personal — and the questions of who actually “owns” those contacts will become a legal issue that the courts will decide over and over again. Of course, the truth is that this is a silly debate. No one “owns” a contact in the first place. If the company has a rule requiring employees to hand over contacts to the company, then it should employ a CRM system which the company controls. Otherwise, reaching into a personal social networking account seems to go beyond what’s reasonable.

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Companies: linkedin

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Comments on “Do You Own Your Social Networking Friends? Or Does Your Employer?”

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JB says:

Contacts vs. Clients

There is a difference between contacts and clients and they should not be used interchangeably.

The article indicates that the lawsuit relates to the clients who were among the contacts in the contact list.

Your contacts belong to you, but your clients belong to your employer. It is unethical and possibly illegal to take a client list when you leave your employer.

blah blah says:


I would just remove my profile, after I first changed the data to false information. I do not care what the courts say on crap like this.

This crap happens in the US too much where the courts will tell you it’s “not interpreted this way” just so they can get around the Constitution; even though it’s written in black and white. (Especially the whole deal about outlawing forced servitude on Amendment 13, then congress making the draft.)

People have to fight back this BS has is turning us into a socialist state.

“The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. ” -Benjamin Franklin

Anonymous Coward says:

No more "rolodex-rule" . . .

Its impossible (certainly impractical) for an employer to prevent you from taking your contact list. I know mine are synchronized with my blackberry, two laptops a work PC and a PC at home, etc (the “rolodex rule” of our grandfathers time just isn’t possible today). It’s only in how you interact with certain contacts on that list that should be the focus of the company. I think they do have a reasonable and actionable interest in certain specific cases, but again only in how you interact with the contact, not your posession of it.

John Rayport says:

Why work at a place like that?

Today’s idea of IP is constantly getting blurred to the point where contacts are now a company-owned asset? Wow! When you enter “John Doe” into Google, it usually shows a person’s LinkedIN account details, not a company employee roster. Because of this, and a need to manage online presence, it should remain property of the employee. Here’s a hypothetical: What if a nefarious manager decided to update someone’s LinkedIN account while someone is looking for a job? Is that a risk the company wants to take by managing that asset? Is the company preventing an employee from becoming employed?

One big reason to used LinkedIN is to network for jobs. Maybe it’s smarter to use social networking at home with your personal email, and avoid social websites all together while at work.

In this case, it probably time for a job change anyway- the working environment is probably not good under such totalitarian rule.

Benjamin Wright (profile) says:

Employer's perspective

If an employer wants to own intellectual property like social net contacts, it can improve its position by posting repetitive notices to employess to the effect that the employer owns the contacts, and the employees agree. –Ben [This idea is not legal advice for anyone, just something to talk about.]

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