The Implications of Merging Business and Personal Lifestyles

I’ve written before on the challenges presented by the progressive erosion of the traditional boundary between business and personal lifestyles. It’s all a consequence of the growth of digital networks, so it’s a long-term, unstoppable trend. So far, most of the issues encountered have been concerns for the employer: problems such as the difficulty in enforcing complex acceptable use policies, or of balancing the human rights of employees against compliance demands for scrutiny of their communications.

Now we have a problem for employees, with a recent court ruling reported in The Register which suggests that employers might have grounds to demand ownership of their employees’ social networking information, if it has been prepared in the course of their employment. This particular ruling forced a UK journalist to hand over the contents of his contacts list to his employer after he had left the company. According to legal experts, the key determining factor is not where the data is stored but the set of circumstances under which it was created.

Given the rapid growth in social networking and the short-term nature of many work contracts, it’s clearly important for employees to separate and secure their personal and business interests. Because it might be just as easy for an employer to take over a departed employee’s contact lists as it is for the employee to walk off with his company’s customer information.

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