May 06, 2015 Articles

Keep Your 'Friends' Close

Can businesses protect social media contacts as trade secrets?

By Helen H. Ji

Businesses put significant effort into developing customer contacts and often treat customer or client lists as confidential information. A number of state legislatures and courts have agreed that such lists may qualify as trade secrets. Now, with the advent of the internet and web-based business activity, many businesses are developing contact lists on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Can businesses protect these social media-generated contacts as trade secrets? Recent case law suggests the answer may be yes.

Frequent use of social media by employees has begun to blur the lines between professional and personal online networking activity. This article discusses recent guidance regarding ownership of social media activity. First, it discusses recent case law indicating when businesses may protect social media-generated contact lists under trade secret law. Courts generally apply the factors considered in evaluating traditional customer lists but have begun to place less emphasis on the availability of individual contacts on social media. Second, it discusses the conflicting claims of ownership that can arise between a company and its employees with regard to social media accounts and their contacts.

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