WAFF 48 Investigates: BYOD programs at work

Published: Apr. 4, 2014 at 2:16 AM CDT
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Bring Your Own Device programs are skyrocketing in the U.S., but they come with drawbacks for...
Bring Your Own Device programs are skyrocketing in the U.S., but they come with drawbacks for the end-user.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Healthcare consultant Michael Irvin says he was just going about his day when suddenly his phone reset. Then, he turned it back on.

"I saw just a blank screen just like I got it originally," said Irvin. "It had no emails, It had no text messages, no apps, nothing. It was just completely wiped."

At first, he thought it was just a glitch. Then, he says, he learned his personal phone, which he also used for work, had been wiped clean by his former employer.

"There were photos of my mother with my kids, a lot of new phone numbers, contact information that I had gathered," said Irvin.

Bring Your Own Device programs are skyrocketing in the U.S. A survey by technology research company Gartner revealed that 38% of companies says they plan to require employees to supply their own phones and tablets within the next two years. Those programs can save companies money and be more convenient for employees, but they come with drawbacks.

Lewis Maltby, founder of the National Workrights Institute, says they pop up especially when an employee leaves the company.  "You can understand why the company would want to wipe the cell phone," said Maltby. "You've got a lot of communications on there that are business oriented, maybe company data. But unfortunately what happens is that the whole cell phone gets wiped, and now you lose everything."

Irvin is not alone. Maltby says cell phone wiping has become the number one workplace complaint they receive. "Everyone that we've heard from is just shocked," said Maltby.

BYOD programs can be confusing for both employers and employees. I checked with David Canupp, an employment law attorney with Lanier Ford in Huntsville. He's written BYOD policies for companies, and he says it's important for companies to make sure that policy is clear and that you understand it.

"It's not a good situation when you have been using a device at work and don't know what the potential consequences are and find out after you've left," said Canupp. "So, I would encourage employees to always discuss that issue with their company's IT staff ahead of time so they know what they're getting into." Canupp recommends companies use the Cloud, Citrix or some other software to keep data off BYOD devices.

At ADTRAN, a telecommunications networking equipment company, based in Huntsville, they've taken a slightly different approach. "Users ask 'Can I bring it in and use it?' said Dave Slifka, Information Technology and Security Manager for ADTRAN. "And after looking at some ways to make that happen, specifically with network access control, procedures in place, it's been a good thing."

At ADTRAN, you don't download material onto your own smartphone or tablet. You just get access to ADTRAN data. So if you leave, they shut down the access instead of wiping your device.

"It's more web based and e-mail, so we just terminate those services and away they go," said Slifka.

ADTRAN's also developing BYOD programs for companies across the world to avoid problems like wiping. And in most cases, the set-up's pretty simple.

"From a wireless perspective anyway, you have different policies that you put different employees in based on what access they have in parts of the network," said Todd Lattanzi, ADTRAN's Director of Product Management. "So, you might have H. R. in one group and engineering in another."

Still, it all comes back to knowing what your policy is.

Lewis Maltby's advice?

"If you leave your job tomorrow, download anything on your cell phone you don't want to lose."

Learn more about BYOD concerns from PrivacyRights.org and the Wall Street Journal.

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