Business networking group LinkedIn has just been taken to court in the US over allegations it has been hacking into users’ email address books to send spam marketing emails, but in the UK, other problems caused by using the site have also been in the news.
The first case to come to court in the UK concerned an employer who took a group of ex-employees to court recently over their use of the firm’s group contacts to start a rival business.
In what is believed to be the first time the legal status of LinkedIn contacts has been addressed, the employer sought an injunction against the ex-employees, which was granted by the High Court.
Judges described the employees’ actions as a misuse of “confidential information” and a breach of the implied duty of good faith and in granting this, the court believes there is a good chance of the company succeeding at trial.
According to the law, general contact details available from the public domain cannot constitute confidential information, but private contact information gained during a period of employment might.
Previous legal challenges have shown that direct dial telephone numbers and email addresses stored on work IT systems can be classified as confidential information, and as such are owned by the employer.
However, where LinkedIn is concerned, ownership of the account is personal to the account holder under the networking site’s own terms and conditions and the data is stored on LinkedIn servers, not the employer’s, making it difficult for an employer to prove that information belongs to them and not the employee.
Given that the law surrounding this is unclear, many employers are now drawing up a social media policy governing what belongs to whom on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, as at least then there are guidelines for employees to follow.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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