Twitter, Facebook, Intellectual Property – Who Owns YOUR Data?

Recently in The New York Times, it was reported that Noah Kravitz was being sued for taking his 17,000 Twitter contacts “with him” once he left his employer.  This raises an interesting question – if a company has a signed non-compete and an intellectual property privacy clause, is it possible that they could still “lose” their IP on Facebook and Twitter because they don’t personally “own” the account?

Certainly, PhoneDog will have its hand full. It appears they let this go on for some 8 months. Unless they have some “cease and desist” emails they can dig up, they will have to explain why it took them so long to actually care about it.

On the other hand, this leads to the more important issue – as companies leverage free Cloud tools to reach out to customers in new ways, are they selling their IP claims short? In the end, will this only come back to bite them when their employees leave for a competitor?

It is our belief that companies should keep all Twitter and Facebook accounts of the company as “house accounts”, only giving access those marketing people who need to connect in that manner. Also, the email addresses linked to these accounts should be reachable by IT. This way, as an employee leaves, IT can simply “request a new password”, with the request able to be fetched within the companies email system directly.

Going further, specifically stating Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and so on in your non-complete can help eliminate the “gray area” that currently surrounds these types of lists. What do we do when a sales guy “connects” via LinedIn to all of his sales contacts? What happens when a salesforce leverages Google+ Hangouts for monthly video conferences with customers? Who owns that data?

Leveraging these new social connections can definately help you market and sell more.  In fact, if you are not doing it, then you are already way behind the curve.  But this doesn’t mean we should lose our IP.  Until the courts rule in July, we just don’t know who truly “owns” the information.  Stay tuned…

(If you are looking for alternatives – we use WordPress for our own private blogging/twitter-like stuff.  We own it, we control it, and if someone leaves the company, we retain it.  For social/facebook type features, have a look at Chatter.  Its easy to set up, its free, and it allows you to make “private” groups to engage and discuss issues and services with clients.)