BYOD privacy: Are you being watched?

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of trust between employee and employer

Is your employer (a.k.a. Big Brother) tracking your every move through your "Bring Your Own Device" smartphone? Mobile technology makes it possible, and four out of five people believe this to be an invasion of privacy, according to a recent Fiberlink-commissioned Harris survey.

All the handwringing over employee privacy in the age of BYOD isn't just for show-that is, real fears exist.

Companies are drafting tough BYOD policies that give them the right to wipe data, install apps and monitor usage. With today's mobile technology, they can collect personally identifiable information. They can track your whereabouts during work and non-work hours using MDM (mobile device management) software, GPS and triangulation.

But wait a minute, you might say. Your BYOD smartphone only accesses corporate email through Exchange ActiveSync. What harm can come of this? Well, this simple connection still makes it possible for companies to remove personal files, pictures and music from your phone, according to Fiberlink.

Story: BYOD: Time to Adjust Your Privacy Expectations

BYOD has become a matter of trust between employee and employer. So far, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of it. Three out of five survey respondents would not let the employer install an app on a BYOD smartphone or even view what personal apps are already installed.

Other stats showing privacy outrage: 82 percent of respondents are concerned about employers tracking websites on personal devices, and 86 percent are concerned about the unauthorized deletion of personal data.

CIOs are getting the message; many have told me that they're busy drafting BYOD policies that protect employee privacy. There are also recent advancements in mobile device management software from companies such as MobileIron that lets companies wipe only corporate data, leaving personal data untouched.

Besides, CIOs don't even want to see personal data on BYOD smartphones because it stirs up legal problems. "It's a slippery slope," says Ben Tomhave, principal consultant at governance, risk and compliance vendor LockPath.

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When global tech distributor Ingram Micro was preparing an aggressive BYOD smartphone rollout, project manager Jason Conner spent countless hours in meetings with human resources, finance and the legal department hashing out issues such as smartphone privacy. He expected the legal department to play the role of Big Brother-and it didn't want the liability.

"Personal data to legal is like toxic waste, they don't want to touch it," Ingram Micro's Conner told me.

Nevertheless, the privacy issue threatens to stymie BYOD adoption. It took Ingram Micro months to draft a BYOD policy. It's a lengthy process that can hold up progress, says Adam Noble, CIO at GAF Materials, a manufacturer of roofing materials, which also just put the final legal touches on a BYOD policy.

"Initially, everyone was going BYOD," says Noble. "But we're starting to see some pullback," with policies and privacy getting in the way.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Consumerization of IT for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at

Read more about privacy in CIO's Privacy Drilldown.

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