Social Media Employment Law

Getting Siri-ous About Data Breaches And Trade Secrets

Siri is that trusted iPhone assistant who you believe is talking directly and only to you.  Siri has become a useful resource for many – someone to assist with dictation or Web searches, or someone to simply act as your own George Glass when you’ve got no one else (I’ve been looking to make my first Brady Bunch reference for some time).

But here too is a potential concern for employers in an area that we have been discussing with greater frequency:  the protection of trade secrets and avoidance of data breaches.  Because of concerns over Siri’s loose lips, IBM recently decided to ban employee conversations with Siri in its workplaces.  As Max Eddy at Geekosystem describes the Siri process, “Siri works by recording your query, whisking it away to a data processing center over your data connection, and then returning the results.  The heavy lifting of natural language processing is done elsewhere, as well as on your phone.  Apple stores your voice queries at its data center in order to improve Siri’s results.”   

And that’s precisely IBM’s concern.   Not only that its sensitive information may be leaked to the public (even unwittingly), but that it is maintained as well by its big competitor and Siri creator – Apple. According to MIT’s “Technology Review”, IBM’s Chief Information Officer described IBM’s concern as follows:

“IBM fears that using such software could allow confidential information to get loose. In the survey, other employees were found to be violating protocol by automatically forwarding their IBM e-mail to public Web mail services or using their smart phones to create open Wi-Fi hotspots, which make data vulnerable to snoops.”

As a result, “IBM even turns off Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant, on employees’ iPhones. The company worries that the spoken queries, which are uploaded to Apple servers, could ultimately reveal sensitive information.”

I can already see it now.   I will soon be reporting on the new employee defense in a trade secret disclosure lawsuit:   “It wasn’t me, it was Siri.”

Employer Take Away:   What should you as an employer take away from this development?   

I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not IBM has overreacted to this new technology for purposes of its workplace ban.   But your takeaway is that, as with IBM’s information, there can be no price tag placed on the loss of your company’s valuable trade secrets and other proprietary information.  So it is wise to make sure that you continue to do everything possible to minimize data breaches and information disclosure by creating policies and protocols that protect your valuable interests.    And in 2012, you need to make sure those efforts take into account the latest in social media and technology advances.   

It’s not just the rogue employee your company needs to worry about;  for even information inadvertently disclosed is, still, disclosed.

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