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Who Owns Your Online Networking Contacts?

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the nothing-personal dept.

Social Networks 130

Ben Morris writes "A recent judgement in the UK courts has forced a former employee to hand over details of his business contacts built up through LinkedIn.com while he was employed by his former company. The decision is one of the first in the UK to show the tension between businesses encouraging their employees to use social networking websites, and trying to claim that the contacts should remain confidential when they leave."

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Nigras? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559317)

Nigras?

Devil is in the details (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559325)

Hays alleged that the employee used his LinkedIn network to approach clients for his own rival agency, which he set up a few weeks before leaving them.
 

Re:Devil is in the details (4, Interesting)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559405)

I think the more relevant bit from TFA is this:

However, the issue here appears to be the contacts themselves and how they were uploaded to the sites - i.e. straight from Mr Ionâ(TM)s work address book.

So remember kids - the lesson here is to build your network piece by piece and day by day, even if it's tedious.

Re:Devil is in the details (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24560419)

So, what about the contacts that had nothing to do with his work there? That company has no right to those.

Re:Devil is in the details (3, Insightful)

InlawBiker (1124825) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559431)

Indeed, a company's customer list is the property of - surprise - the company. Using LinkedIn as a loophole to aggregate the contacts doesn't make it right.

Re:Devil is in the details (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559493)

some people might say that a "list" is not the "property" of anyone.

Re:Devil is in the details (3, Insightful)

ardle (523599) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559539)

some might say that a list defines ownership.

Re:Devil is in the details (4, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560015)

some might say that a list defines ownership.

Huh?

So, here's my list:

1. Everything of yours.
2. The lint in my pocket.
3. All your base.
4. Profit!

Re:Devil is in the details (2, Interesting)

ardle (523599) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560335)

Well, if you could get that to hold up in a court of law, then - yes :-)
I was thinking of registries (e.g. land registry) and maybe things like insurance policies.
We don't think about it much but legal systems like lists.

I think many humans like lists, too, and give extra credence to information presented in tabular forms. I see it as another example in our history of giving extra credence to information simply because it is written down (I'm sure it's a long history that goes back to the first writers).

Re:Devil is in the details (1)

ksd1337 (1029386) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560763)

I own the ???, so you just saved yourself a big copyright infringement lawsuit by omitting it from that list of yours.

Re:Devil is in the details (1)

hclewk (1248568) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560943)

Poor example. Yeah, that list you just made is yours, but that doesn't mean the things the list refers to are yours. Likewise, the company owns the list of contacts, but in no way does the company own the people whom the contacts represent.

Re:Devil is in the details (5, Informative)

MacJedi (173) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559595)

some people might say that a "list" is not the "property" of anyone.

Those people would be wrong. Depending on your jurisdiction databases (lists) may be covered by copyright or database rights[1].

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database_right [wikipedia.org]

Re:Devil is in the details (5, Funny)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559871)

Depending on your jurisdiction databases (lists) may be covered by copyright or database rights[1].

Databases want to be free!

Re:Devil is in the details (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24560343)

All your databases are belong to us!

Re:Devil is in the details (3, Funny)

LordEd (840443) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562871)

Databases want to be free!

Oracle price list (per processor)
Standard Edition One: $5800
Standard Edition: $17500
Enterprise Edition: $47500

Re:Devil is in the details (1)

SBacks (1286786) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559663)

and some people say the Earth is flat http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/08/10/1241218 [slashdot.org]

Re:Devil is in the details (5, Funny)

Intron (870560) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559823)

The curvature is about 0 deg, 0 min, 1 sec per 100 feet, which is flat enough for engineering purposes.

Re:Devil is in the details (5, Funny)

TornCityVenz (1123185) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560149)

Oh great...NASA just chimed in.

Re:Devil is in the details (2, Funny)

Teun (17872) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561565)

Yeah, engineering in feet...

Just wait for the conversion...

Re:Devil is in the details (4, Funny)

slarrg (931336) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561781)

After converting to meters, NASA has confirmed the earth is a torus.

Re:Devil is in the details (4, Insightful)

MrMarket (983874) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560391)

some people might say that a "list" is not the "property" of anyone.

These people never spent years and money building and updating their customer lists.

Re:Devil is in the details (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24560191)

Yep. At least some of us actually read the article other than going OMG! at the sensationalist title.

Re:Devil is in the details (1)

bigjimleo (1341807) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562171)

I think one of the important concepts to toss around is the notion of acting as someone else's agent. if you're acting as their agent, then you are acting on their behalf. If you then turn around and take their customers when you move on, then you weren't acting on their behalf. You were merely pretending to act on their behalf while looking to steal their customers.

This is one of those arenas where salaried (vs. hourly) employees are constantly in a grey area. If your best friend does business with you while you work at XYZ Co, then you strike out on your own, then what? Your best friend was buying from XYZ co only b/c you were there. Once you move on, he no longer has any brand loyalty to XYZ Co (he never had any to begin with), and so XYZ Co's claim on him as a customer is tenuous. If you made the initial contact "after hours", then you can make the case it's just a friend following you, not the company. If you make the contact "on the clock", then its a company relationship. Its still grey, but better than being salaried when there really is no on/off the clock.

Being permitted to work in your field is different than taking customer lists. You can work in your field and not (unless the company is a monopoly) need to take the same customers. Usually there's a cooling off period built into any employment contracts. If not, you better get one.

what email address did he register? (3, Interesting)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559327)

If he registered his work e-mail and promoted that as his main contact, then yes, he was using Linkedin in the course of performing his job and his employer is entitled to those contacts. However, I would also expect that whether or not there's confidentiality involved would depend upon if there was an NDA in force when he was hired.

Re:what email address did he register? (2, Funny)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559369)

I think this is relevant. However, I would think the contacts thing would be in his contract or employee rules. However, his old company shouldn't be able to bar him from contacting these people from his new company, even if he was keeping his list of contacts on a slip of paper in his office.

However, this news is coming out of the UK, so things are probably different over there.

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559441)

It depends on your business; if you're in banking or finance there can be rules about contacting your former clients for a period of time after you switch jobs.

I've seen them try and do the same thing to sales people, but it doesn't seem to work as well (in my experience).

For IT? I can't see where there would be a problem really.

Re:what email address did he register? (3, Insightful)

grahammm (9083) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559515)

It depends on your business; if you're in banking or finance there can be rules about contacting your former clients for a period of time after you switch jobs.

Whereas in other industries, such as the beauty business, it is normal for clients to follow you when you change jobs.

Re:what email address did he register? (3, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559599)

Sadly, the same goes for banking...People get attached to their banker, and since it's such a trust position, they'll follow that guy if he switches, rather than try to "break in" someone new.

Re:what email address did he register? (3, Insightful)

compro01 (777531) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560405)

Not just trust, but also a "knows what I need/want" thing. It generally happens with any sort of personalized service. Bankers, brokers, investment consultants (a lot of times those three hats are worn by one person), doctors, lawyers, funeral planners, etc. All of them rely heavily on repeat clients and word-of-mouth advertising, which in turn rely heavily on providing just-what-I-needed service.

Re:what email address did he register? (2, Interesting)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561301)

Outside of zombie/vampire movies, how much repeat business do funeral planners really get? The customer is usually one-time, satisfied or not :-p

Re:what email address did he register? (3, Insightful)

compro01 (777531) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561545)

Not sure if you're completely joking or not, but the customers are not the deceased, but the family of the deceased, which typically do bring opportunities for repeat business, as everyone, including vampires and zombies, dies eventually, and if they were satisfied with the services the first time, it's likely they'll return.

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

bladesjester (774793) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562573)

as everyone, including vampires and zombies, dies eventually, and if they were satisfied with the services the first time, it's likely they'll return.

Isn't that sort of how you get zombies and vampires in the first place? Or is it that you're hoping for a sequel? =]

Re:what email address did he register? (2, Insightful)

compro01 (777531) | more than 6 years ago | (#24563007)

Your signature and comment match quite well.

Re:what email address did he register? (2, Funny)

myowntrueself (607117) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562363)

Whereas in other industries, such as the beauty business, it is normal for clients to follow you when you change jobs.

Oh I have a great story about this.

I used to do business with a company that sold computer equipment.
They had a old-ish sales guy, totally non-technical but a real people-person. He was great to deal with and went out of his way for me.

He was also a part-owner of the business.

Well, a few of the other business owners got together late one night and wrote him out of the company.

This sales guy soon found work elsewhere. And guess what? ALL of his customers started dealing with his new place of work. And that turned out to be MOST of the customers of the previous place. They didn't last long after that.

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

dedazo (737510) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559633)

For IT? I can't see where there would be a problem really.

Consulting firms usually have non-compete clauses (and if you're leaving in amicable terms, simply gentleman's agreements) about what you can do once you leave, if you're leaving for the competition or creating your own. Usually you're not supposed to dip into the client pool you were working with at the previous company, for six months to a year.

When I left my firm to start my own, I left on very good terms with them, so for the next six months I did something else while I built up some potential and new contacts. It was a good move because I ended up subcontracting some stuff to them. Everybody's happy, etc. YMMV of course.

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559693)

Yea, I wasn't thinking of consulting...Talk about your personal relationships. I spent a couple of years doing consulting, and I get calls to this day (4 years later).

Re:what email address did he register? (3, Informative)

Wylfing (144940) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559731)

I've seen them try and do the same thing to sales people, but it doesn't seem to work as well (in my experience).

Most States have laws that prohibit contractual obligations that prevent you from working in your field. I mean, you can't very well tell a medical device sales rep that he is forbidden from approaching physicians for 1 year.

Plus, anyone in sales knows damn well (or ought to know) to keep their own contact list, and not rely exclusively on the company contact database.

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560339)

>you can't very well tell a medical device sales rep that he is forbidden from approaching physicians for 1 year.

From the other direction: Can you make it illegal for someone to sign a contract, with consideration, for the same?

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560793)

It's never illegal to sign such a contract. What happens is that the contract, or sections thereof, merely becomes legally unenforceable.

You and I can write up a contract making you my slave, sign it, get it notarized, whatever, and there's nothing illegal about it. But if I then abduct you and imprison you in my home, the police will haul me away to jail despite the contract (if I get caught).

Likewise, there's nothing that prevents a salesman from signing such a contract, or his employer from creating one. But if the employer takes their former employee to court for breaking it, they'll (usually) discover that they can't actually do anything about it.

slashdot article said only CA has such a law (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24560409)

According to the article and numerous posts in http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/08/08/1335253/ [slashdot.org] , California is the only U.S. State with a law prohibiting contractual obligations that prevent you from working in your field.

So what set of States were you referring to when you said "most States have laws that prohibit" that?

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561639)

A friend works as a realtor and when he told his company he was quitting to go independent they went to court demanding he could not (continue to) do business with their clients.

The court ruled he could in his new company not contact his old clients but they were free to call him.

(That was the Dutch solution)

The Negroid (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559575)

Nov 2008, vote for change!

Re:what email address did he register? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559877)

However, I would also expect that whether or not there's confidentiality involved would depend upon if there was an NDA in force when he was hired.

Aren't Linkedin contacts publicly visible by all?

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

Cederic (9623) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561117)

Not exactly. If someone is close to you in your network then you can see their contacts, but not the contact details. You can pay LinkedIn to send a message to them but that's rather less useful than having their email address/phone number at hand.

Re:what email address did he register? (3, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559953)

You are correct only insofar as the employee is concerned. Both British and EU law protects all personally identifying information on behalf of the person identified, NOT the holder of that information, which means that the employee has no legal right to forward that information to anyone, even if that information is obtained in the course of his work duties. The information doesn't belong to him, it belongs to the people it is about.

(That is what makes the EU - in principle - far superior to other regions when it comes to privacy. You own all data about you, no matter who has it. You do not rescind ownership, simply by handing it to someone. They are merely licensed to hold that information. You are entitled to demand that they reveal what information they have, and are entitled to demand mistakes are corrected or that the information is destroyed.)

If the employee has no legal ownership of the information, the court cannot order him to forward it. Courts can't order people to commit offenses! That would be absurd. And since he is merely the licensee of that information, not its owner, the court had no business regarding him as a concerned party.

I want to see privacy laws increased in Europe - there isn't nearly enough, which is why Britain has so many CCTV systems, mostly used for the purpose of selling footage to the media - they are barely ever used in criminal cases and aren't even that usable when they are. Further, only computer-stored data is protected, which is stupid - privacy breeches are about the privacy not the method.

Re:what email address did he register? (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560625)

That's no longer the case. Anything stored in a "structured filing system" is protected now. It certainly includes video tapes, and a lot of paper files.

Re:what email address did he register? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24560451)

why oh why are people using linkedin for CRM?

Riight (3, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559389)

If you make contacts, you keep 'em unless it's something profoundly related to your company (e.g. the guy in shared services who'll push your capital requests).

Otherwise those are your contacts. You bet your ass the sales guys turn around and pitch your customers in their next gig. Why should it be any different for IT?

Re:Riight (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560039)

Because everyone knows IT workers are social retards and shouldn't be allowed to annoy anyone on the companies friends list, who only tolerate awkward chats with the IT workers because they're paid to.

Re:Riight (2, Interesting)

thermian (1267986) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560225)

Those contacts were direct from his work contacts list, he was trying to pull a fast one and didn't get away with it.

This happened to the guy I replaced (4, Insightful)

lantastik (877247) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559391)

Apparently some other members of the company had been contacted by recruiters and they started going through email and found some emails in violation of the non-compete clause. They then solidified their case through the former employee's LinkedIn contacts. The guy ended up settling out of court and they drilled him financially.

After finding that out, I went through my LinkedIn contacts and removed ALL the recruiters on there I didn't know on a personal level. I then contacted the recruiters remaining on my list and asked them to contact me before sending any InMail to any of my LinkedIn contacts.

Re:This happened to the guy I replaced (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560327)

Isn't California abolishing/banning non-compete clauses? That's going to make such actions fun, as most corporations exist in multiple States and therefore you've no real way of knowing which State the e-mail server is in.

Re:This happened to the guy I replaced (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561163)

Another good reason to never agree to a non-compete clause, or at least try to get a contract without one. I had my last employer strike the non-compete clause from my contract of employment when I signed it. Left the company to freelance for my client. The agency I worked for tried to foist a non-compete clause on me as well, but they too agreed to have it removed from the contract.

You'll want to look for non-contact clauses as well... the contract I was offered had a clause that forbade me to seek any professional contact with other employees if I quit my job, and having people on LinkedIn would probably qualify as such contact. (I had that clause removed as well... employers and clients buy my professional services, not my life or my soul).

It will be interesting when its Stateside (4, Interesting)

pillageplunder (183475) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559403)

After RTFA, it appears as if the bloke in question set up his linkdin several weeks prior to him leaving. Of a more interesting nature, in my mind, is, at what point does an employer here in the States 'own' your contacts? Think about it. You've been on a site like the one mentioned in the article for lets say 5 years. You accept a position at a new company. Over the course of your 2 years being employed there, you add lets say 5 contacts. You then accept another position at another company, perhaps because you received a better job offer through this service. Can the comapny you are now leaving sue you in the US and obtain all of your contacts, even those prior to when you joined?
Another question is, are you now in the position of having to list out any and all personal and professional contacts you have on various internet sites as a part of your disclosure when filling out your paperwork for a new company? Sort of like having to list patents, websites and other works you might already have prior to working somehwere?
Time will tell I guess. this case seems pretty straightforward based on the limited article...but it sure will muddy up quick.

Re:It will be interesting when its Stateside (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559743)

"...even those prior to when you joined? Another question is, are you now in the position of having to list out any and all personal and professional contacts you have on various internet sites as a part of your disclosure when filling out your paperwork for a new company? Sort of like having to list patents, websites and other works you might already have prior to working somehwere?"

Interesting. The reasons for hiring someone depend on their assets. Some assets are tangible, demonstrable, but most are not. How can I, for instance, enumerate the entirety of my experience, professional techniques and methods aquired over a lifetime of work when applying for a job? Yet these are the very things I'm being hired for.

Anything else is effectively a transfer of intellectual property, and if it could be valued then the company would owe me millions.

The legal answer is simple to me. If a company wants to make a claim to any information the onus must be on them to prove, with appropriate records and paperwork, that the information originated directly through them, during the term of my employment, and relates specifically to work carried out while in employment.

This is probably moot anyway since as we've seen in California and greater Europe such contractual clauses are being regarded as unenforcable and void.

Looking at it in a wider perspective, like the strangulation of development due to IP greed this course of action eventuallly harms the companies. Eventually it becomes too costly for a professional to work for a company if encumbered by long term NDAs, non-competes and grabs at their personal assets - weighed up against the long term value in their overall career it makes sense to take a lower wage with a less greedy firm. Or simply to set up on your own or work as a contractor.

Re:It will be interesting when its Stateside (1)

pillageplunder (183475) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559869)

If you look at it with a jaundiced eye, what happens when you are outsourcing stuff...the contractor/company that you've our-sourced the work to has folks working there...what happens to their contacts? I think the pendulum will swing in extremes to both sides before we see a satisfactory middle ground.

Re:It will be interesting when its Stateside (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24560081)

After RTFA, it appears as if the bloke in question set up his linkdin several weeks prior to him leaving. Of a more interesting nature, in my mind, is, at what point does an employer here in the States 'own' your contacts? Think about it. You've been on a site like the one mentioned in the article for lets say 5 years. You accept a position at a new company. Over the course of your 2 years being employed there, you add lets say 5 contacts. You then accept another position at another company, perhaps because you received a better job offer through this service. Can the comapny you are now leaving sue you in the US and obtain all of your contacts, even those prior to when you joined?
Another question is, are you now in the position of having to list out any and all personal and professional contacts you have on various internet sites as a part of your disclosure when filling out your paperwork for a new company? Sort of like having to list patents, websites and other works you might already have prior to working somehwere?
Time will tell I guess. this case seems pretty straightforward based on the limited article...but it sure will muddy up quick.

I think this is best answered by how executives are held to this level of "ownership". For example an executive might not "own" their contact list, and they might even have a non-compete saying they can't work for 2 years after they leave, but the catch is they are COMPENSATED for that bit. If a company is going to "own" my contact list, I should know that and they should compensate me for that ahead of time.

Re:It will be interesting when its Stateside (2, Informative)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560365)

>the catch is they are COMPENSATED for that bit.

It isn't really a "catch", it's a simple fact that a contract is only valid if something of value is exchanged for valuable consideration.

Re:It will be interesting when its Stateside (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562273)

It isn't really a "catch", it's a simple fact that a contract is only valid if something of value is exchanged for valuable consideration.

I think most employers would argue they pay a salary, hourly wage, or whatever, and the consideration is in there.

Contact lists are a work product.

The employee, is after all, uses employer time and resources to reach and groom new contacts, even if they form a personal relationship, the employer is paying them for that time.

What argument can there be that the employer doesn't have ownership the intermediate results of their work? Instead of just revenues from sales made through the contact, for instance.

Arguing it belongs to solely to the employee.. resembles the supposition that an employer can hire someone to write software.

And although the employer gets the finished product, the employee still fully owns all the source code they wrote, and can take it to their next job.

(Source code is a work product also.)

Re:It will be interesting when its Stateside (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561069)

After RTFA, it appears as if the bloke in question set up his linkdin several weeks prior to him leaving. Of a more interesting nature, in my mind, is, at what point does an employer here in the States 'own' your contacts? Think about it. You've been on a site like the one mentioned in the article for lets say 5 years. You accept a position at a new company. Over the course of your 2 years being employed there, you add lets say 5 contacts. You then accept another position at another company, perhaps because you received a better job offer through this service. Can the comapny you are now leaving sue you in the US and obtain all of your contacts, even those prior to when you joined?

Depends on what you mean by "obtaining your contacts". On linkedin, you can contact your contacts' contacts, so chances are your co-workers will be able to make your contacts their contacts too. If those contacts agree, ofcourse. That's pretty much how it works.

I fail to see the need to get judges involved.

Another question is, are you now in the position of having to list out any and all personal and professional contacts you have on various internet sites as a part of your disclosure when filling out your paperwork for a new company? Sort of like having to list patents, websites and other works you might already have prior to working somehwere?
Time will tell I guess. this case seems pretty straightforward based on the limited article...but it sure will muddy up quick.

Wha..wha.. WHAAAA? (1)

xant (99438) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562513)

"Of a more interesting nature, in my mind, is, at what point does an employer here in the States 'own' your contacts?"

At no point whatsoever. Contacts are just knowledge, and they're not secret knowledge. There is no law that covers their ownership. The reaction I'm reading to this story makes me think that people now believe, a priori, that anything an employer can do to an employee is legal, until the employee has proven otherwise in a court of law.

There is no way this would fucking stand up in the US. I'm amazed it stood up in the UK. And the reason the guy did it is completely irrelevant... didn't any of you see Jerry Maguire?? Salespeople consider their rolodex to be a perk of the job. There's no law being broken in taking your contact information with you when you leave a company. This ruling is bullshit.

Who owns your contacts? (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559411)

Is a tricky question.

The real question is, though, how does it impact on your and your former employer's life? A contact isn't some sort of IP. There's a person or a company on the other end of the address, phone number or mail address. How will they react to a company that browbeats you into handing over your, partly private, address book?

If anything I'd send a mail to my contacts and tell them in no uncertain terms what my former employer did. Would you want to do business with a company where you have to watch constantly for backstabbing? I don't know if I'd really enjoy that.

Re:Who owns your contacts? (4, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559527)

Just another example of social networking privacy issues. If your contact list was on your crackberry, you could give 'em the finger, secure in the knowledge that they'd never get hold of it.

But if it's right out there on LinkedIn...Well shit. What do you do? Especially if some of the contacts you've made are more buddy-buddy than pure contact...Or hell, what about all the contacts you make in school? I know dozens of people working for tech companies all over.

I know a manager in a corp that is competing directly with the corp I work for. We even BS industry specific crap back and forth; nothing truly private, but you know how the auditors get...But I knew this guy before either of us started working our current gigs. It would be easy to argue it as related or suggestive, but in reality it's just co-incidental.

Re:Who owns your contacts? (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559777)

I'm curious as to the reasoning of the court. In Britain, personal information identifying an individual is protected under the data protection act. Information cannot be stored on an individual without consent by that individual, so unless each and every contact gave permission, their relationship to the person in question is protected. The individual does not have the lawful right to pass such protected information without that express consent. European data protection laws also apply in this. This is a gross violation of their privacy under accepted EU human rights legislation. EU law also provides for the barring of all computerized trade with nations that fail to provide privacy. (The US gets special exemption.) There are provisions for handling matters of national security, criminal investigations, etc. There are NO provisions for nosey ex-bosses. I hope the contacts concerned file for an injunction blocking the transfer. This is exactly the sort of privacy concern that resulted in such protections in the first place. If an injunction is denied, I hope they take the matter right the way through to the European Courts if necessary. By then, the information probably will be transferred, but the legal right to privacy needs to be defended and protected in case law, or judges will take this as precedent to ignore the DPA as and when it happens to suit them.

Re:Who owns your contacts? (3, Insightful)

FnH (137981) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560401)

The intent the information was shared with plays a role here I imagine. If the intent for the contact was to keep in touch with the company, then the information can be transferred. If the intent was to keep in touch at a more personal level, then it can't. Chances are that at least some of the contacts were personal, and that this ruling should have been more nuanced.

Re:Who owns your contacts? (2, Insightful)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559779)

I don't have a LinkedIn account, but does it allow users to flag/tag they contacts as to:

- persona
- business
- source
- in a field related to my current employers' core line of business
- mildly risky
- ???

And, what of an employee who has all sorts of non-professional/unprofessional, naughty contacts, say, polluting the list just to waste the time of anyone being an asshole enough to demand the list?

May as well populate the list with names of thousands of deceased. Start name-scraping off headstones in Colma, CA, where the dead outnumber the living something like 10,000 to 1. Actually, the annoyed employees using LinkedIn might want to start combing the obituaries, massage adverts, business license/permit notifications and so on. Then, if the list is subpoenaed, just ignore any demand for living contacts and turn off the character flag and voila!

Re:Who owns your contacts? (1)

kwerle (39371) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559829)

I know a manager in a corp that is competing directly with the corp I work for. We even BS industry specific crap back and forth; nothing truly private, but you know how the auditors get...But I knew this guy before either of us started working our current gigs. It would be easy to argue it as related or suggestive, but in reality it's just co-incidental.

And when you're BSing, you use private email addresses on both ends, right? Because if you're using company machines, I'd say you're digging your own grave[s], career-wise.

Re:Who owns your contacts? (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560321)

Hmmm. I was going to go into detail, but it occurred to me that posting such information in the clear, through the monitor I would hypothetically have to be bypassing, would be teh stupid.

Suffice it to say, "Yes." I can think of a number of ways to secure my transmissions, and it's not unlikely that I've used at least one of them. Paranoia is your friend.

Re:Who owns your contacts? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559683)

Customer lists can be IP in the form of trade secrets. If the list has economic value and the company takes reasonable measures to protect it, it is likely a trade secret. See http://iplaw.blogs.com/content/2006/06/in_a_may_31_200.html [blogs.com] .

Could be some NDA/NCA issues there . . . (3, Interesting)

mmell (832646) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560077)

Divulging what your (former) employer has done could well be considered a violation of most standard Non-disclosure agreements (telling how your previous employer gets their contact data).

Contacting said contacts to give them what might be construed as negative information about your prior employer could indeed convince them to do business elsewhere, raising the spectre of competitive activity (even if you don't profit directly). If company xyz is able to take your former employer's contacts because you published their dirty laundry, you could end up liable even if xyz never compensates you for their good fortune. In a civil court, it would place you in the position of proving that xyz didn't compensate you for your actions, an incredibly difficult proposition (remember: in civil court, the standard is a preponderance of evidence, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt).

Re:Who owns your contacts? (2, Informative)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560337)

"A contact isn't some sort of IP."

Under accounting rules in the US, a customer list is a type of "identifiable intangible asset."

Re:Who owns your contacts? (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560383)

What if you have an equally binding obligation not to disclose something to one party, or say you are even bound by law not to make that disclosure. One party claims you have a legal responsibility to disclose, another party claims you have a legal responsibility not to disclose. Who wins, and who decides? This is definitely worthy of a hearing (e.g., trial with a jury).

Bizn4tch (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559505)

ifc desired, we [goat.cx]

If online, you don't own it. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559555)

I am now convinced anything online - is not property; IP or not. It is simply "out there".

Laws and such will (mostly) favor those with powerful lawyers and the financial ability to control that "property".

I have recently begun to contribute to a short story site. I consider all of that material "gone" and even though we have a license on the work - I don't expect it to be ever enforceable.

And before you claim banking websites and owning that - information to funds over the Internet is simply a reflection of a "real world" property.

In Europe... (4, Funny)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559605)

...where they have decent employment and privacy laws this would never be allowed.

Oh. Wait...

Re:In Europe... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24559981)

It's not in Europe, it's in the UK. Yes they are and no they're not, and this is exactly the sort of issue that puts the UK apart from, or at least very much to one side of, European policies.

The Euro and Iraq are two other easily noticed examples. If you actually find yourself thinking that what happens in the UK is exemplar of Europe, then you need to review what you know about the region.

Of course they'll want them (3, Interesting)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559659)

Contacts can sometimes be worth an incredible amount of money. This is absolutely true when you're talking about a business that relies on doing contract work.

Re:Of course they'll want them (2, Interesting)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559897)

Indeed, which is why companies use something called "Customer Relationship Management Systems." They even make their salespeople register their clients in such systems and the update them too. That way, when the salesguy quits, he can not take the whole customer list away from you.

They went through a private company and... (1)

BitterOldGUy (1330491) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559745)

made their contacts. Notice "private".

Then read the EULA including the mice type.

And yes, I do read EULA and I usually ignore it and I'll live with the consequences - including /.'s - which means they'll ban my account (gasp!) and my IP (double gasp!!) oh God! What do I do?!?! Oh wait ... you guys know.

By the way, all of you are closet Windows users and want to be the next Bill Gates! :-P

I wouldn't have a problem with that... (2, Insightful)

mmell (832646) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559919)

of course, they'll have to wade through several dozen pron^H^H^H^Hart websites, as well as half a dozen casino^H^H^H^H^H^Hpractical mathematics websites - not to mention /., UF, YouTube . . . oh, never mind - they can just get it all from the network guys. What, you didn't keep a record of my network activity while I worked for you? Boy, it just sucks to be you today, don't it? I sure don't remember all the people I've had contact with lately, I was counting on you guys to keep track of that for me.

What (Again?) The Law Applies to the Internet too! (2, Interesting)

rueger (210566) | more than 6 years ago | (#24559993)

Us old-timers will recall the glory days of "copyright law doesn't apply to the Internet" and "Libel and slander laws don't apply on the Internet." Tee hee - we were soooo NaÃve.

Of course a list of contacts developed while in someone's employ belongs to the company. That has been the law in just about every jurisdiction for decades. Just because that list is on the shiny new Intarweb doesn't change anything.

As with blog posts, comments, YouTube, and Facebook, the onus is on you to keep a clear line between work developed information and personal information, and to think these things through well in advance.

And to realize that trying to poach you employer's clients will almost always get you in trouble.

Re:What (Again?) The Law Applies to the Internet t (1)

rueger (210566) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560017)

That's "naive" since slashdot seemed to not like the proper spelling I pasted in...

Good luck with that (5, Interesting)

BlueZombie (913382) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560049)

To all you worker drones out there:

  • Always read what you sign.
  • Respect it to the letter
  • Whether you respect it beyond the letter, is up to you

To all you bosses out there:

  • You can maybe force me to turn over an address book
  • But you cannot force me to turn over years of personal relationships I've carefully built
  • So treat me good while you have me
  • Or you'll miss me when I'm gone

i wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24560123)

just how many of those "business contacts" will suddenly find themselves relegated to "drinking buddies"?

It's a trade secret issue. (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560187)

The issue in this case wasn't whether the employee was entitled to keep a copy of the contacts list after leaving employment. The question was whether the employer was.

The employer is probably entitled to the information. But the employee may be entitled to it, too. LinkedIn buddy lists ("networks") aren't a big secret. Arguably, they're not entitled to protection as a trade secret. Absent an non-compete agreement (illegal in California), the employee and the employer both probably have the right to a copy of the information.

pretty crazy (3, Interesting)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560233)

It really all boils down to what you can get away with. As was mentioned previously, hair stylists will tend to take their customers with them when they go to a new salon. This is also common when talking about stock brokers and investment advisers, "taking their book with them." Very competent car salesmen will also walk with their clients. I would have no compunction switching vendors when a salesman changes jobs if the business is such that I know he has a very strong influence in the quality of service I receive.

At the same time, business owners tend to think of these customers as "theirs" and use any number of anti-competitive ruses to crush their employees. I worked at a midrange shop where the boss hosed one of his sales reps on a deal: he gave the guy a figure to offer for a deal and the rep had no latitude to change the offer, it being the boss' money and all. When the customer hemmed and hawed over it, the boss called them back and offered a better price, then put the sale on his board, not the other rep's! The rep walked, naturally, and a better case of killing a goose that laid golden eggs could not be found. The guy tried taking his book with him and the boss pulled out the non-compete signed many moons ago. They wasted a lot of money in court and the judge eventually decided against him.

A very common and legal scam in service-related industries is the lawn service con. When someone buys a lawn service, they're not buying the equipment so much as the customer base. The equipment costs are negligible compared to the effort of gathering all those customers in the first place. Ah, but what does the wily lawnmower man do? After he sells his business, he contacts all of his customers and lets them know he's going to be doing business as a different name. Those customers, happy with his service, will switch companies and the new owner of the old company will find himself with no work. Anyone buying a service business like this must must must stipulate a non-compete in the contract.

There's no right or wrong in this kind of dispute, there's only what you can get away with and what you can be nailed with in court.

Re:pretty crazy (1)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560891)

I really have to wonder, who's buying cars so often that they actually have a chance to get to know a salesman? Me, I'm still on my first car, but I can't imagine buying a car more often than once every three years or so (and probably much less than that), so there would be no way we'd still know each other. I guess there are people out there with money who really like to have new cars, but it's such a strange idea.

Re:pretty crazy (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562667)

I really have to wonder, who's buying cars so often that they actually have a chance to get to know a salesman? Me, I'm still on my first car, but I can't imagine buying a car more often than once every three years or so (and probably much less than that), so there would be no way we'd still know each other. I guess there are people out there with money who really like to have new cars, but it's such a strange idea.

Rich, rich assholes. This guy worked at major luxury dealerships. New car every other year, they never wanted to let that new car smell wear off. Yeah, made no sense to me either.

So you just accept an uncontracted position? (1, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560241)

If you're going to get a job with another entity: person, corporation, not-for-profit, don't do it without your own protective clauses. Maybe I'm lucky that as a contractor, I can submit my expectations within the bid documents, but I don't see any reason why a W2 employee can't and shouldn't put their expectations into the work agreement.

If you do something on behalf of your customer (in this case, your employer), expect the customer to want rights to it. Designing a website, creating a marketing list, etc, may be easily acknowledged by others as "theirs" even if you spent the time doing it. They did pay you for that time, correct?

If you disagree with the verdict here, just put it into your work contract. I do.

Does my boss need my Fark contacts? (1)

DI Rebus (1342829) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560367)

Hi: Just wondering. /Can I post the paint huffer dude?

I don't know who owns them... (1)

afabbro (33948) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560533)

...but I chown them and then I pwn them.

Just send a copy. (3, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560693)

How exactly does one "hand over" an electronic record that can be freely copied?

What are they going to do, tell all his contacts to no longer talk to him if he calls?

You have to be smart... (2, Interesting)

SirTreveyan (9270) | more than 6 years ago | (#24560807)

Using systems owned by your "soon to be former" employer to set up your business is not very smart. It never hurts to cultivate relationships amongst your work related contacts, however do it on your own time. Manage your contacts at home on your own system as this eliminates any chance that something will be found on your old work system or in the e-mail logs. Figure out ways to strike up away for the office friendships with the contacts your are most interested. It takes time and forethought, but there are ways to "pilfer" a contact list without raising your employer's suspicions and if done right the boss will even encourage you.

A serious lesson to learn here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24561021)

always, Always, *ALWAYS* use your own system and internet connection, and email accounts, for any communications that are not strictly the business of your employer.

For instance, I have my own laptop with a cellphone aircard in it. My employer actually allows me to bring and use my own laptop at work, while on breaks and during my lunch hour, as long as it's never plugged into the company network, which it never gets plugged into.

Re:You have to be smart... (1)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561053)

LinkedIn isn't a system owned by his "soon to be former" employer.

What If You Married One of Your Contacts? (1)

SRA8 (859587) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561515)

Wow...that would get messy. Could they force a divorce?

Non-Compete Clauses (1)

Pancake Bandit (987571) | more than 6 years ago | (#24561585)

This makes me think of non-compete clauses that some employees have to agree to before working with a company. Contact with clients is a major asset, so if you leave with clients you're stealing from the company in a way.

Re:Non-Compete Clauses (1)

Tuoqui (1091447) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562531)

In the free market, they'd either stay with the company because its providing much better service *OR* go to the guy who quit and started his own company because they have much better service.

Competition is something they should have to suck up and deal with it or step up and show your clients you're that much better.

Enough is enough! (1)

mfnickster (182520) | more than 6 years ago | (#24562759)

That's it... consider me LinkedOut. :-/

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