BYOD trend in full effect despite privacy, legal concerns

The bring-your-own-device trend can put companies in hot water regarding employee privacy, but strong policy and the right tech can mitigate the risk.

NEW YORK -- BYOD is here to stay, despite the problems it can cause for some companies.

The bring your own device (BYOD) trend can raise employee privacy issues, put organizations in legal hot water and force IT departments into situations they're not prepared for, said speakers and attendees here at this week's Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise (CITE) Forum. But the bottom line is employees bring their own smartphones and tablets to work because it makes them more productive, and IT can't stand in the way.

The trick is to come up with a policy that works for everyone.

Joshua Konvisser,
partner, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

"They're going to use them regardless, so you have to be reasonable and control what you can control," said an IT professional at a financial services firm in the Northeast.

What IT can control are the policies put in place to govern employee-owned mobile device use and the technologies used to enforce those policies. This IT pro said his firm uses an enterprise mobility management product to protect corporate data without locking down access to employees' personal assets.

"They're there to make you money, so you have to make those concessions and try to find a balance," he said.

The BYOD trend's effects on privacy

Companies that try to overextend their reach, however, could find themselves in trouble. Employees have an expectation of privacy when conducting business on their own mobile devices -- and, to a lesser extent, even on corporate-owned, personally enabled devices, attorney Joshua Konvisser, a partner with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, told CITE Forum attendees.

Most BYOD privacy disputes between employees and employers don't make their way to trial, but courts can find companies liable for overstepping their bounds and accessing personal data. To protect themselves legally, employers should create clear BYOD policies and make sure employees know about them, Konvisser said.

"The trick is to get input from all the interested parties and come up with a policy that works for everyone and is enforceable," he said.

That doesn't always happen, though; 44% of business workers don't even know if their company has a BYOD policy, according to a survey by IT security consulting firm Coalfire Systems Inc. And, sometimes, the BYOD trend takes off so quickly that companies can't immediately respond.

"A lot of IT shops get forced to support BYOD before they even have a policy," said Jon Herstein, senior vice president at cloud file-sharing and collaboration provider Box.

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Do you have a BYOD policy?
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I resigned from a company today that made it mandatory to have our company email on our personal phones. We were never told about BYOD policy nor was i ever advised my entire phone would be wiped out after leaving the company. I lost all contacts, pictures, text, and emails and had no back up in place...this cant be legal! is it?
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