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Are your LinkedIn contacts a trade secret?

If salespeople connect with their business contacts on LinkedIn or another social media site, can they take that information with them when they leave the company?

Maybe not, according to a federal court in California.

David Oakes worked for six years as a salesman for a cell phone accessories company. He had signed an agreement saying that he wouldn’t disclose any proprietary information, including the company’s customer base. When the company terminated him, he started a competing business. His old company then sued, claiming, among other things, that he had maintained his LinkedIn contact list after he was terminated.

Oakes asked the court to throw the suit out, arguing that contacts on LinkedIn aren’t a “trade secret.”

But the court said a jury should decide the question. Among other things, the jury will have to consider (1) whether the contact list was built up as a result of the company’s business efforts, as opposed to simply being generated by LinkedIn’s “People You May Know” algorithm, and (2) whether Oakes “disclosed” the information by making his contact list accessible to others.

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