Don’t Let Your Employer Hijack Your LinkedIn Account
Linda Eagle’s lawsuit against her former employer, Edcomm, over its alleged hijacking of her LinkedIn account may not end well for her, but it serves as an important warning for employees who mingle their business with pleasure when it comes to social media.
Linda Eagle founded and built Edcomm into a well-known company in the field of banking training and had become an expert herself in the field by the time she sold the company in 2010, according to her complaint.
Over the years, Eagle had built up an impressive LinkedIn account, which Edcomm had required her to maintain, with many business connections. Edcomm never, however, said it owned that account.
Eagle was terminated by the new owners in 2011. Eagle had given her LinkedIn password to an underling, who then shared it with a team of execs at Edcomm who accessed her LinkedIn account, changed the password to lock her out, and slapped the face of the interim CEO on Eagle’s profile.
That allowed Edcomm to take advantage of all of Eagle’s professional connections and prevented her from doing the same, she said in a lawsuit filed in July 2011 in federal court in Pennsylvania. Edcomm and the team of her former bosses violated both federal and state laws by committing unauthorized access to computers, identify theft, and conspiracy, among other things, she alleged.
What’s happened since then is a little mysterious – except for the fact that Eagle’s LinkedIn profile now appears to be all hers, and Sandi Morgan, the interim CEO, has her own Edcomm profile. Eagle and her lawyers parted ways, according to the firm that filed the 2011 complaint, but she kept up the fight, according to another lawyer familiar with the case.
“The federal court dismissed Dr. Eagle’s federal claims on October 4, 2012 but refused to dismiss her state law claims,” relates Tyson Snow, a lawyer with Pia Anderson Dorius Reynard Moss in Salt Lake City, who keeps the Social Media, Esq. blog and has written there about the case.
The judge had a trial for her state law claims in November 2012, but “the record is sealed, so little is known about what actually occurred,” Snow adds.
No Payday After All?
But a hearing in February 2013 did result in leaks of some information: “the judge found that Edcomm was liable on at least some of Dr. Eagle’s [state law] causes of action but that Dr. Eagle could not establish damages with enough specificity to satisfy the court,” Snow says.
While Eagle succeeded in convincing the judge that Edcomm had no right to prevent her from accessing her account – since the company lacked a policy of maintaining ownership of LinkedIn accounts – she couldn’t convince the judge that she’d suffered any damages from the hijacking, says Snow.
The court had already decided that people who visited Eagle’s profile didn’t confuse her with Sandi Morgan and were able to contact Eagle through alternate means. So while Eagle will likely win on principle, if she can’t prove damages, she won’t get any payout from the case.
Advice for the LinkedIn Set
Snow says that most people wouldn’t find themselves in Eagle’s position but that there are some important lessons for any user of LinkedIn to learn from the case.
“Dr. Eagle’s case was unique in that she claimed that her LinkedIn account was worth a significant amount of money and that Edcomm benefitted as a result of hijacking that account,” he explains. Most employers wouldn’t have the incentive to hijack a former employee’s account if they couldn’t get value from it.
“The employees who should be worried are those who combine their ‘company’ and their ‘personal’ LinkedIn accounts, particularly where the company does heavy marketing and recruiting through LinkedIn,” Snow warns.
If your company doesn’t set out a policy about who owns the account in that case, there could very well be a fight over who owns the connections associated with it.
“Employees should consider maintaining a personal and a company account so that the company account can be ‘returned’ without losing all of the personal connections developed along the way,” he suggests.
“Finally, don’t give your password to anyone,” Snow concludes. “It will be extremely difficult to ‘hijack’ an account if your employer doesn’t know your password. Thus, unless there is a policy to the contrary, the departing employee will have a strong argument that he or she should be allowed to retain the account.”