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Wiping worries for people who use personal cell phones for work

CREATED May 5, 2014

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Healthcare consultant Michael Irvin said he was just going about his day, when suddenly his phone reset. 

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

Michael's 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," Irvin said.

Bring Your Own Device Programs are skyrocketing in the U.S., with 38 percent of companies saying they plan to require employees to supply their own phones and tablets within the next two years.  But while these programs can save companies money and be more convenient to employees, they're not without drawbacks--especially when the employee leaves the company.    

Lewis Maltby with the National Workrights Institute explains.

"You can understand why the company would want to wipe the cell phone," he said. "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."  

Labor and Employment Attorney Mark Terman said companies need to do a better job disclosing the privacy and access issues surrounding bring your own device policies.  

"There's a fair amount of confusion among both employees and employers, and this is a situation where both the company and the employees need to know the ground rules," he said.  

He also suggests companies consider investing in new 'sandboxing' tools that allow for a more selective wipe.

"Systems that operate in one sandbox on a device could be accessed and wiped out while not disturbing the sandbox where the personal information of the individual is on," Terman said.

As for Michael, he said he was never able to retrieve his lost photos and contacts.  

"I had no idea that they could do it, and it was just a complete shock to me," he said.

Wiping isn't only an issue when you leave a company.  If you lose your phone or tablet a company may want to wipe it immediately to protect the data, so be sure to back up your device often.