File sharing sites such as DropBox have become commonplace, allowing users to upload and access electronic documents from a variety of locations. These sites are particularly convenient when multiple people are required to review a document; however, as a recent legal matter highlights, they can pose risks.

In February, a Virginia judge ruled that Harleysville Insurance Co. waived its right to privilege in a lawsuit when an employee uploaded documents to an unprotected file sharing site. The judge stated that by uploading those confidential documents to a site that was accessible by anyone who had access to the hyperlink, it was essentially like leaving the documents on a public bench. (See Opinion here)

Is this ruling an outlier, or a harbinger of things to come? Time will tell. However, at a minimum, the ruling should give pause to any company that uses these kinds of sites to share information. Before sharing any documents, videos, or other information via a file sharing site, consider these points:

  1. Is the information confidential or sensitive in any way? Consider whether the documents contain confidential, proprietary, or sensitive information related to clients, customers, or your business. If there is any question as to whether the information you are sharing contains some kind of private or sensitive information, it is best to avoid uploading that to a file sharing site.
  2. Use a password. If you must use a file sharing site, make sure you utilize a password. This is key, regardless of whether the information would be considered confidential. Always set up password protection.
  3. Are other alternatives available? Consider alternate methods to share documents and information. If your business requires you to regularly share materials and data, it might make sense to invest in a secure file sharing tool that allows you to easily and safely share documents with clients, customers, and colleagues.

While the Virginia case involved documents in a legal matter, it does bring to light the privacy and security issues that sites like DropBox present. Many businesses now house a great deal of sensitive information related to their clients and customers, so they must exercise great caution before sharing any information in an unsecured forum.