BYOD Gets Messy with AT&T Class Action Lawsuit

With a BYOD twist, AT&T agreed to settle a class action lawsuit for overcharging corporate customers for almost seven years. But like most things involving BYOD, this gets complicated.

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Wed, April 10, 2013

CIO — How much can "Bring Your Own Device" smartphones cost? Some companies embroiled in a class action lawsuit against AT&T Mobility stand to lose out on thousands of dollars because they can't participate in a $153 million settlement, says a source knowledgeable about the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, AT&T Mobility denied all actions of wrongdoing but agreed to settle a class action lawsuit alleging the company overcharged millions of customers from January 2004 to December 2010. Brought by MBA Surety Agency, the class action lawsuit is in the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis, Missouri.

Here's the interesting part: Some companies that jumped on the BYOD bandwagon prior to 2010 are losing out on more than $100,000. By letting employees transfer a corporate-liable smartphone to a personal-liable one, companies gave up their right to be part of the settlement, says the source.

Instead, the BYOD employee is entitled to the settlement even though the company may have paid the overcharges for years. If the BYOD employee changed carriers, though, no one benefits from the settlement, according to the source.

Whether or not companies have recourse isn't the real issue, at least not for this article. Rather, BYOD opens up a Pandora's box of yet-unimagined consequences. This class action lawsuit is just one of many events to come that will make BYOD a very messy proposal.

Another BYOD legal hotspot is privacy policies. Companies are finding that they have to spend a lot of time crafting an employee BYOD policy that keeps corporate data safe yet doesn't infringe on a person's right to privacy on their personally owned device.

Slideshow: 9 iPhone-iPad Apps That Invade Your Privacy, and 1 That Doesn't

This can get incredibly muddled.

Here's a scenario given by Ben Tomhave, principal consultant at governance, risk and compliance vendor LockPath and co-chairman of the American Bar Association's SciTech Information Security Committee: Let's say IT conducts a search on a BYOD iPhone or iPad and stumbles upon signs that an employee has been working on a project that potentially undermines or competes with the organization.

If the employee was doing this on his own time—that is, not company time—can the company fire the employee based solely on this potentially ill-gotten evidence? If the employee is terminated and the company remote wipes his iPad, deleting personal data, is the company culpable?

"It's a slippery slope," Tomhave told CIO.com last year. With the recent class action lawsuit, Tomhave's words have proved prescient. BYOD is getting even more slippery.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

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