Are Linkedin Connections & Twitter Followers Trade Secrets?
Recently various cases have cropped up between companies and former employees relating to social media contacts made by the employee while working for the company.
Two examples of recent cases are PhoneDog v. Kravitz, (N.D. Calif. 11/8/11), which concerns the ownership of a corporate Twitter account and followers; and Eagle v. Morgan, (E.D. Penn. 12/22/11), which concerns the ownership of a LinkedIn profile and connections.
The reason? Some companies have argued that such contacts constitute trade secrets that belong to the company. “Trade secrets” are fairly amorphous, but the label has covered such company property information as client lists, potential client lists, and client contact information. Furthering that argument, companies have argued that they get to keep an employee’s contacts after that employee departs from the company.
The problem? Social media contacts are not trade secrets.
For something to be a trade secret, the information has to have “independent economic value from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, the public.” 18 U.S.C. s. 1839(3). However, as we all (should) know, social media contacts are generally known to the public and are capable of being easily derived from public information.
For example, if you are connected to us on LinkedIn, you can see everyone we are connected to. Even if you aren’t connected to us, you could likely find someone who is connected to us, and could trace our contacts that way too. Same goes for other sites, such as Facebook. The fact of the matter is that if it’s that easy, there really is no “secret” to it.
Do you think this makes sense? Leave your thoughts!