Are your LinkedIn contacts yours or your employers? Are they confidential? Could they even be considered trade secrets? While we do not yet know the answer to these important questions, we may be one step closer because of a recent court ruling in Cellular Accessories for Less, Inc. v. Trinitas LLC.
Among the issues decided in this case was whether Cellular’s claim—that a former employee’s LinkedIn contacts constituted trade secrets—would be dismissed on summary judgment or proceed to trial.
On the one hand, the defendants argued that the former employee, David Oakes’, LinkedIn contacts were not a trade secret because “Cellular encouraged its employees to create and use LinkedIn accounts, and Oakes’ LinkedIn contacts would have been ‘viewable to any other contact he has on LinkedIn.’”
On the other hand, Cellular argued that Oakes’ LinkedIn contacts were a trade secret because “LinkedIn information is only available to the degree that the user chooses to share it” and “it is not automatically the case that contact information is ‘viewable to any other contact.’”
Maddingly, however, neither side provided any evidence as to whether Oakes had actually set his privacy settings so that his contacts were viewable or not!
Largely because of this, the court decided that Cellular’s trade secret claim could not be dismissed on summary judgment because there “remain[ed] issues of material fact as to the LinkedIn information.”
What this means, then, is that unless the parties settle, we may actually get a trial court ruling on whether LinkedIn contacts can be considered a trade secret. This is definitely a case to watch.
What do you think? Who owns a person’s LinkedIn contacts or an employee’s work-related social media profile, contacts, and content? What steps are you taking proactively to ensure that your employees have the same expectations in this regard as you have?