Preserving Customer Lists in the Linked In Era

It is now common for people to maintain their professional contacts through Linked In and other social media.  So what happens when a sales person uses Linked In rather than his or her employer’s marketing database to store customer contact information?  Typically, a company will require key employees – such as those with responsibility for client or sales development – to sign a written agreement acknowledging that the clients and customers developed during employment are owned by the company and not by the employee.  But, if the contact information is only stored in the employee’s personal Linked In account rather than in the company’s marketing database, does the storage location “trump” the company’s assertion that all such contact information is the company’s property?  An employee might argue that information stored that way has become the employee’s and not the company’s.

The argument over who owns the customer information in this circumstance will have to be resolved by the courts, but the use of social networks as the primary storage location for customer contact information could spell trouble for employers that are trying to preserve that information.  Until this issue has been addressed by the courts, the safest course of action for an employer may be to require that the employee use the company’s marketing and email databases as the primary means for its contacts with clients and customers, explicitly requiring employees to reserve Linked In contacts for “personal” contacts other than company clients and customers.  In practice, however, this may be a difficult rule to enforce.

Stay tuned for guidance from the courts.

The analysis set forth in this article is provided for general understanding only and should not be considered legal advice.  Counsel should always be consulted for advice regarding a specific situation.

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