Is Erasing Your Cell Phone “ok”?

By on January 24th, 2014 in Ethics, Topics

Will your employer erase all of the data on your cell phone if you leave your job? This practice is discussed in a 22 January Wall St. Journal article. The corollary is whether you need a separate phone for personal use and work.  A prior WSJ online entry points out the pros and cons of using personal cell phones for work.

Both articles identify employers who will erase your cell phone if you lose it, leave your job, or are terminated. This raises legal issues about the destruction of personal data (pictures, phone records, apps, music, videos, etc.)  And of course the time invested in curating these, or just getting to the 24th level of angry birds. (Of course you were not doing that on company time.)

As we invest more of our life, trust and ‘memory’ to our portable devices, the ability of an employer or other entity to “erase” the contents of that is a rather questionable practice.  Minimally an employer should offer a different mobile device to employees who are expected to use these with clear communications about personal use, rights in data, and so forth before allowing a user to use their own device for business.

If you reverse the tables, it is clearly unethical and probably illegal for the employee to delete content from the corporate computers.  Backing up your device (including corporate content) at home, or in the cloud (beyond corporate reach) are things to consider.

There is a market for “virtual” systems on mobile devices so you can have a clear delineation between the corporate and personal content. Meanwhile, you may want to have two cell phones.