As social media networks become part of the lives and daily routines of more and more people, the use of social media networks in the workplace has begun to highlight a number of issues where an employee’s use of a social media network may interfere with the rights of their employer. A recent case pending before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California presents a familiar problem from the realm of trade secrets, but casts it in a new social media oriented setting. The case is PhoneDog v. Noah Kravitz (N.D., Case No. C11-03474-MEJ).
Noah Kravitz worked for PhoneDog.com where he periodically would offer his opinions concerning new mobile phones as they were released for sale to the public. In order to drive traffic to the PhoneDog website, PhoneDog and Mr. Kravitz employed the use of a Twitter account. Using the Twitter handle of @PhoneDog_noah, Mr. Kravitz was able to attract approximately 17,000 followers, each of whom received real-time updates from Mr. Kravitz regarding his thoughts on various mobile phones, as well as some of his personal opinions on other topics. Upon his departure from PhoneDog.com in October 2010, Mr. Kravitz changed his Twitter handle to @noahkravitz, but continued to use the same Twitter account, effectively taking all 17,000 followers with him when he left. Obviously unhappy with this action, PhoneDog filed a lawsuit against Mr. Kravitz asserting (among other things) a claim for misappropriation of trade secrets. According to PhoneDog’s complaint, Mr. Kravitz’s Twitter account had been developed and maintained for the sole purpose of driving internet traffic to the PhoneDog website, for the sole benefit of PhoneDog. Therefore, according to PhoneDog, Mr. Kravitz’s Twitter account, as well as the password to that account, constitute proprietary, confidential information belonging to PhoneDog. PhoneDog alleged that each of Mr. Kravitz’s 17,000 Twitter followers was worth $2.50 for each month that Mr. Kravitz used the Twitter account after his departure from PhoneDog. Having conjured this $2.50 per user value, PhoneDog alleged that it had suffered $340,000 of damages as a result of Mr. Kravitz’s use of the disputed Twitter account for the eight months following his departure from PhoneDog.