A tiny little article in the Saturday Minneapolis Star Tribune business section blew my socks off. According to the Associated Press, a California appeals court has ruled that Apple Computer will not be able to search for the identity of those who leaked and posted unreleased product information on public web sites, stating that 'online reporters and bloggers are entitled to the same protections as traditional journalists'.
From an HR perspective this is huge. And it's a blow for personal accountability. Any employee with some level of company knowledge and a blog (or blog contact) can decide that the world should know about a product, whether or not that product is market-ready. Whether or not the company has invested heavily in proprietary product development. The employee remains anonymous, but the company is still liable. It renders confidentiality agreements useless, and also gives a whack in the kneecaps to non-compete clauses.
It points to one of two types of future workplaces: one where everything is completely locked down and no one trusts anyone with confidential information. Or one where employees are trusted implicitly, are treated as a full-on part of the work community, and where employee engagement is of utmost priority (because, after all, you don't steal from your friends).
I have really mixed feelings about this ruling. On one hand, hooray for free speech. People should be able to share their opinions freely. I love the fact that employees can hop on-line and tell the world what it's like to work at Company X (so I as a prospective employee can get the real scoop). On the other hand, this feels like taking $100 out of Grandma's purse and giving it to my favorite charity. Sure, nice to share, but it's not mine to give. What's the incentive for companies to invest heavily in proprietary products and services if that investment can be lost through five minutes at the keyboard by a disgruntled employee? Feels like a kick in the pants for meritocracy, which is what frank is all about.
So I'll be watching closely as other state judicial systems, companies and the blogisphere continue to unravel the story. Stay tuned!