The Dark Side of BYOD: Your Company Could Take Your Smartphone

It sounds like a good idea.  Why carry two cell phones?  Why should a company shell out bucks to buy you a phone?  Then, there are the silly tax laws that require you to pay taxes on your company supplied phone.  So, bring your own device (BYOD), and your troubles are over!  Right?

Actually, no.  As recently reported in “Use your personal smartphone for work email? Your company might take it”:

If you use your personal smartphone or tablet to read work email, your company may have to seize the device some day, and you may not get it back for months.

By connecting to work email and other employer data, your device could be dragged into litigation as evidence.  Strictly speaking, it isn’t so much that the company is taking your device as it is that they may be required to confiscate it and scrub it for data in civil or criminal cases involving their employer.

In fact, [Michael R.] Overly [a legal expert in LA]  says he was part of a case recently where a judge sanctioned a company for a discovery violation because it failed to search BYOD devices during discovery. He declined to name the case.

This data could include photos, GPS data and other data that might not normally be even thought about.  Even if it is thought that you might have used it for work might be sufficient for snatching up for evidence.

Presumably, one would get the device back after the litigation is over, but that could literally take months.  That is a major inconvenience should it occur.  Many people, in fact I’d argue most, make no effort to backup their contacts and calendars.

This also opens up a can of worms about privacy and such.  What if a known drug dealer is on the contacts list?  Does that give license to anyone to start watching the phone’s owner?  If porn is on the phone, does the company have the right to let that person go?  Talk about uncharted territory!

Still, companies might risk it even if they end up reimbursing employees for the inconvenience.  The potential savings could easily outweigh the potential for risk, not to mention that employees have the convenience of using their own personalized device (rather than a separate, taxable item).  However, it is always better if everyone understands the risk upfront.