iPhone Tracking Only Tip Of Security Iceberg

Mobile devices will present ongoing security and privacy challenges, particularly to businesses that permit personal usage of corporate devices.

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But Kenney sees location data, particularly in the context of social media, as an under-appreciated risk. He suggests that if employees, enabled by mobile devices, are broadcasting their location through Twitter or Facebook posts, that might provide competitors with valuable information. The repeated presence of a particular executive at a hotel near particular company might reveal a potential acquisition target, for example.

David Michael, CIO of UBM TechWeb, which operates InformationWeek, finds concerns about the iPhone's store of location data overwrought, at least for employees. He notes that many enterprises buy laptops that come with services like Computrace, which allow laptops to be tracked.

"Location-wise, you may think you're invisible but that's not the case," he said in a phone interview.

Michael says the challenge right now is the co-mingling of corporate and personal data. There's a huge desire among UBM TechWeb workers to access corporate email on their personal mobile devices.

"You cannot believe how desperate they are to hook up their iPads to read email," he said.

Michael supports the idea because it would allow employees to be more productive without incurring additional hardware costs. The company's IT department has the ability and tools to allow consumer devices to connect to the corporate network, but the company's lawyers aren't so sure.

"Privacy lawyers are very concerned about the risks," he said.

Alexander H. Southwell, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, says it always complicates things when employees use devices provided by their employer for personal communication. "The way that many companies deal with that is they make it very clear there's no expectation of privacy," he said in a phone interview.

There's a fundamental tension, he says, between convenience and risk. "Everyone wants the latest and best gadget, but no one wants to worry about security," he said.

Southwell observes that social media presents a particular challenge. "We're seeing increasing issues where employees' off-duty conduct comes back to affect their employment situation," he said.

Miriam Wugmeister, chair of the global privacy practice at law firm Morrison & Foerster, echoes that assessment and stresses than employers should make it clear to employees that they can't expect privacy using corporate devices. While she observes that allowing employees to backup personal devices containing corporate data on a home computer could pose an e-discovery problem in the event of litigation, she also says there are good technical solutions that allow corporate IT administrators to create sandboxes that segregate personal and corporate communications.

However, Wugmeister says that privacy expectations and laws differ significantly abroad. "A big mistake is taking U.S. technology policy worldwide," she said in a phone interview. "You have to be very careful with employee monitoring in other countries." As an example, she points to South Korea, where it's a criminal offense to read another person's email without consent.

She also believes the intersection of mobile devices and social media will cause problems for companies. "As more and more communication happens on social media, the blurring of the lines [between personal and professional] will get more complex," she said.