Who actually owns your LinkedIn profile?

Your LinkedIn profile, contrary to LinkedIn’s own user agreement found here and in the video below your profile may actually belong to your employer (along with the connections within it).

No, this is not a joke. I’m serious.

Thats right, even if you registered ‘your’ LinkedIn account way before joining your current employer, you have paid for the premium version with your own hard-earned cash? Even if you’ve never ever used it to manage a company page ‘your LinkedIn account’ may actually belong to your employer based on your employment contract.

The terms and conditions of LinkedIn’s user agreement state that the ownership of a ‘user account’ itself (provided it is in an employee’s own name) remains at all times with the employee and an employer cannot force the employee to transfer their account or disclose their username and password to them.

That said, there are companies out there storing the passwords of employees’ LinkedIn accounts, regularly logging into employees’ accounts to monitor whether they are seeking alternative employment. Some even use clever ‘mail rule’ technology within the Microsoft Exchange stack to track every incoming message or connection request into their employees’ LinkedIn accounts, how? It is enforced that their work email is to be the primary email address linked to the account. Talk about Big Brother!? Surely nobody should be that paranoid… Should they? Anyways back to the topic. LinkedIn account ownership.

There have been numerous high court rulings in recent years regarding LinkedIn account ownership, Hays Recruitment –v- IonsSasqua Group –v- Courtney and Penwell Publishing (UK) Ltd –v- Ornstein & Others all resulting in very different rulings. The one thing all these cases had in common was the intent shown by large corporations to make life difficult (some rightly so and some not) for employees leaving their business to launch their own ventures. In fact many spent tens, if not hundreds of thousands on expensive litigation only to recover a few hundred to a thousand contacts, which begs the question, just how valuable are these contacts to companies? After all they connected with an individual and may have liked/followed the company page. Where is the divide between business and personal? Does this mean they could take over your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts too? Apparently so.

Looking at this from the other side (i.e. those individuals who wished to connect with the individual owner and face of the account) what choice do they have in the matter of now being connected to a dormant, faceless legacy account or even worse the account that is now posing as that of the former employee of the company (despite them no longer working for that business). At what point does that become identity theft, misrepresentation and other such like ‘American style counter-sue’ cases?

It’s a jungle out there and in the age of social media, a workforce of millennials and ‘big data’ on everyone’s lips not only in business and employment but the legal landscape too (which is a tricky one to navigate at best) especially when it comes to social media and employment law. My advice would always be ‘if you’re unsure, seek legal advice and always read your employment contract thoroughly before you sign it’. You never know, you may just end up innocently and naively on the wrong side of a law-suit for breach of contract.

The questions to those reading this post, of which some of you will be nodding in agreement, some of you shaking your head in disbelief and some still licking your wounds from an unnecessarily nasty exit from a former employer and the court proceedings that followed would be;

1) When are these ‘corporate bully boy’ or ‘David vs Goliath’ style tactics acceptable and when does it become all ‘too personal’?

2) How valuable are the contacts you make on LinkedIn to your employer and are they worth the legal fees?

3) Where does the mothership ‘LinkedIn’ itself stand with regards to the hundreds if not thousands of daily violations of their ‘user agreement’? Sure we’d all love Jeff Weiner’s stance on this topic.

4) At what point would LinkedIn go legal against an employee who is forced to handover their account by their employer and in turn breaches the contract between them and LinkedIn?  

Look forward to your thoughts/feedback on this topic. Thanks for reading.