In The Age of Social Media, Are Customer Lists A Trade Secret?
The traditional view that a company’s customer list is a trade secret has been challenged by the growth of social media. The counter arguments are that customers’ information is publicly available and information in social media profiles is potentially mobile.
Some courts have ruled customer lists are not protected because they can be replicated by reviewing publically available information. What was formerly found in telephone directories can now be seen through various forums on the Internet. If employees use social media to connect with customers and prospects, they may take that information with them if they change jobs.
On the other hand, at least one court has found that social media may enhance a company’s argument that its list is a trade secret. In Christou v. Beatport, LLC (reported in http://news.acca.com/accacomm/issues/2018-09-24.html) a Colorado court found that social media profiles were comparable to a data base. A California court in Cellular Accessories For Less, Inc. v. Trinitas, LLC ruled it was a question of fact whether LinkedIn connections were trade secrets.
According to a bulletin of the Association of Corporate Counsel this is a developing area of law. The more information a company adds to its customer list, the more it will likely be considered a trade secret. Companies should be proactive in developing social media policies and identify protected information in employment agreements.