Enterprise 2.0, A Legal Risk?

Last week, we looked the possible benefits and risks associated with the use of Web 2.0 tools in a real life business. This week, I think we need to go further into the risk side of things, so let’s take a look at possible Legal risks of Enterprise 2.0.

Previously, I had thought that yes there are risks involved with businesses using the internet and in particular Web 2.0 technologies, but I had thought that these risks would’ve comprised mostly of security issues associated with sensitive information such as company plans, customer details, bank information etc.  However I have been doing a bit of reading this week, and it has been brought to my attention that these risks extend much further than just security issues. There can be legal implications and consequences from misuse of Web 2.0 technologies, unintentional or not.

Some of the articles I read were from Wikinomics,  Law Techology News, ITnews and a paper for Smart Service Queensland. I found these articles quite insightful into the legal issues of Web 2.0

Corporate Twitter

But what are the actual legal implications? Well even if companies are not using Web 2.0 specifically for their business processes, their employees and customers are. One example of employees using Web 2.0 inappropriately, Is the story of a New York flight attendant, who kept a blog of her life as a flight attendant. The blog was not an issue to the airline and was not brought to their attention until the flight attendant posted revealing photographs of herself wearing the company’s uniform.

The flight attendant – Ms. Simonetti, was fired for “inappropriate photos in a Delta uniform.” Since then, the flight attendant has filed a sex-discrimination complaint against the airline with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is threatening to sue for $10 million. The flight attendant claims other employees, primarily men, have their photographs posted on the Web in uniform and are not fired for it. The airline declined to comment on the case.

“”Nonunion employees enjoy very little legal protection for their off-duty activities,” said J. H. Verkerke, professor of law and director of the Program for Employment and Labor Law Studies at the University of Virginia. Because the material is posted on the Web, privacy protections do not apply either, according to Mr. Verkerke.

Ms. Simonetti “cannot invoke the common law privacy doctrines because she posted these photos in a public place,” he said. “The employer didn’t have to search at all, except perhaps on Google, to find the images.”” (NY Times, 2004)

So what can we see from this example? Well employee’s private lives are not as private as they think; anything that is posted on the internet is public property.  The employee ultimately lost her job of the incident, and would obviously have trouble finding another job after this, seeing as the stigma is now something that will follow her for life. Also, the company looks bad, for having their employees act in this way, also that they had to fire the employee and then go through the legal issues of being sued.  Microsoft suffered a similar incident, when an employee posted an entry to his blog that detailed an upgrade to the Windows Mobile operating system (OS), and he included a link to a page where the upgrade could be downloaded. The only problem was the upgrade, Windows Mobile 6.1, was not supposed to be made publicly available for at least a couple more weeks.

How about another example, this time from the perspective of a company using Web 2.0? Most young employees have grown up with Web 2.0 in their personal lives, so when they come to work, they are expecting to have these tools available. This is why a lot of companies are turning to Web 2.0 for their business processes. However the increasing use of Web 2.0 creates a lot of new legal considerations.

One major issue is intellectual property rights. An example of this is Dell’s IdeaStorm, were they solicit ideas for product improvement from customers in an attempt to harness the collective intelligence. But who then owns the information?  These are just a couple of the legal issues that can arise.  In order to mitigate potential legal risks, with proper rules, constraints and security controls, that Web 2.0 can be used in a positive way within Enterprise.

“Innovative companies necessarily tolerate some legal uncertainty while the law catches up with new business practices, but three best practices can reduce the legal risks of Web 2.0 developments:

1. Establish clear company policies. Inappropriate content posted on a company-sponsored Web site can subject the company to legal claims. For example, Continental Airlines was held liable for harassment based on postings on an online employee bulletin board. Blakey v. Continental Airlines, Inc., 751 A.2d 538 (N.J. 2000). Because it would be impossible to detail all the scenarios that might arise from Web 2.0 interactions, policies should establish broad principles that guide employees.

2. Develop Appropriate Terms of Use. Clear terms of use or terms of service, which establish the rules of conduct for a Web site, are another effective way to minimize risk arising from Web 2.0 applications. Because many Web 2.0 sites solicit ideas from customers or employees, ownership of ideas and intellectual property is a key area for Web 2.0 terms of service.

3. Take advantage of legal protections in Web site design. Another best practice is to consider whether the design or operation of the Web 2.0 site can be developed to take advantage of legal protections under the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230) or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 512).” (Law Technology News, 2008)

This is a video from the American Bar Association about whether or not anyone can really control content on the internet.


About brookekeeley

Brooke Keeley
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2 Responses to Enterprise 2.0, A Legal Risk?

  1. I really like what did you say “employee’s private lives are not as private as they think; anything that is posted on the internet is public property.” for the reason that it is true. The web become a new life style for most of people and the privacy in some of the social website it’s not that strong, when anything posted in the Internet it’s hard to get it back.

  2. Pingback: Blogging and Micro Blogging, Good or Evil? | Brooklyn & Enterprise 2.0

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