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Technology: It’s a BYOD world and companies better learn how to deal with it

How companies can protect private data while allowing employees to use their own devices

Not too long ago companies worried about making sure that they controlled their employees’ use of company-owned computers and devices. Employers had greater financial resources to buy the newest technology so, naturally, employees wanted to use these devices for both work and their personal lives. The main concern was making sure that employees did not use the company’s media to do something improper.

Now, the tables have turned. As the line between work and personal lives has blurred, so has the difference between work and personal media. More than ever before, employees have tremendous access to emerging, personal technologies and are using them for work instead of their company-issued computers or mobile devices. 

The increased use of personal devices at work is sometimes called “bring your own device” to work, or BYOD. BYOD creates a whole new set of problems for employers. Personal cloud storage exacerbates the issue. Services like Dropbox, iCloud, SugarSync and Boxnet allow employees to easily lease space on large servers so they can access their data from anywhere in the world (often for free). These services aren’t going away and will keep growing. Indeed, BYOD on the whole is a paradigm shift that is permanently changing the way we work.

So what should companies do to manage BYOD? 

For some, the knee-jerk reaction might be to ban personal devices at work. That’s unrealistic.  Companies tried to ban Facebook at work, but lost many employees. Now companies openly advertise that they are “Facebook‑friendly.”  

BYOD is a similar issue. Banning the use of personal devices for work will cause a mini-revolt and will be impossible to enforce consistently. Thankfully, technical developments will make it easier to manage BYOD. New software is being developed for encryption, tracking and remote wiping of mobile devices. Similarly, some smart phones now have “toggle” features, allowing the user to toggle between personal and business use on the phone.

Companies must think proactively by adopting policies that protect their data while giving employees the freedom of choice they crave. These policies should include several points:

  1. As a basic issue, employees must promise not to use any company information on personal devices for anything other than personal use.
  2. If employees are going to use personal devices for work, they must use passwords for the devices and tell the company what the passcode is. They also should describe the type of information they want to store and promise to update the company if they get new devices or access more information than initially identified.
  3. Many employees use cloud-based services to store and access company information.  Because these services are primarily free, they are easy to use and are the best way to manage data using an iPad or another tablet device. The BYOD policy must require employees who use these services with company information to tell the company what sites they are using, provide the account information to IT, give IT permission to access the site and promise to allow IT to check the site before the employee shuts it down.  
  4. When an employee leaves the company, IT must have the right to wipe, or at least inspect, any personal computers or devices that were used to store or access the company’s confidential information.
  5. While BYOD cannot be realistically eliminated from the workplace, companies should still prohibit specific, vital types of data from being copied to or stored on these devices. In conjunction, companies should also do an assessment of their actual trade secrets. If data is clearly a trade secret, the company should customize protections for that type of information to make sure that it does not fall into the wrong hands through an employee’s use of a personal device.  

BYOD is rapidly changing the face of our workplace. Companies must swim with the BYOD current or drown fighting against it. They can still protect their interests in the BYOD world, but they must be vigilant in doing so. 


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Dave Walton

Dave Walton is a member in Cozen O'Connor’s labor & employment practice group and co-chair of the firm's e-discovery task force. He has extensive...

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