'Bring your own device' policies at work

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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Health Care Consultant Michael Irvin says he was just going about his day, when suddenly his phone reset. He was surprised when he turned it back on.

"I saw just a blank screen just like I got it originally. It had no emails; it had no text messages, no apps, nothing. It was just completely wiped," he said.
At first he thought it was just a glitch. Then, he says he learned his personal phone, which he also used for work, had been wiped clean by his former employer.

"There were photos of my mother with my kids, a lot of new phone numbers, contact information that I had gathered," explained Irvin.

"Bring your own device" programs are skyrocketing in the United States with 38 percent of companies saying they plan to require employees to supply their own phones and tablets within the next two years.   

But, while these programs can save companies money and be more convenient to employees, Lewis Maltby, founder of the National Workrights Institute, says they're not without drawbacks, especially when the employee leaves the company.    

"You can understand why the company would want to wipe the cell phone," said Maltby. "You've got a lot of communications on there that are business oriented maybe company data. But unfortunately what happens is that the whole cell phone gets wiped, and now you lose everything."  

Maltby says cell phone wiping has become the number one workplace complaint they receive.  

"Everyone that we've heard from is just shocked," Maltby added.
Labor and Employment Attorney Mark Terman agrees it can be a problem.  He says companies need to do a better job disclosing the privacy and access issues surrounding bring your own device policies.    

"There's a fair amount of confusion among both employees and employers, and this is a situation where both the company and the employees need to know the ground rules," explained Terman.
He suggests companies provide a disclosure of their policy and get written consent from employees.  Or, they could consider investing in new "sandboxing" tools that allow for a more selective wipe.   

"Systems that operate in one sandbox on a device could be accessed and wiped out while not disturbing the sandbox where the personal information of the individual is on," Terman said.   

Meanwhile, Maltby has this message for anyone using a personal device at work.  

"If you leave your job tomorrow, download anything on your cell phone you don't want to lose," he said.

Irvin says he was never able to retrieve his lost photos and contacts.

"I had no idea that they could do it, and it was just a complete shock to me," said Irvin.

Experts add wiping isn't only an issue when you leave a company.  If you lose your phone or tablet, even temporarily, a company may want to wipe it immediately to ensure the data isn't accessed by anyone else. so be sure to back up your device often. 

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