Using Personal E-mail for Work Is a Bad Idea, Says Expert Benjamin Wey

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Hillary Clinton's State Department e-mail scandal proves what Benjamin Wey already knows, that mixing personal and work e-mails causes a lot of headaches. (politifact.com photo)
Hillary Clinton’s State Department e-mail scandal proves what Benjamin Wey already knows, that mixing personal and work e-mails causes a lot of headaches. (politifact.com photo)

Hillary Clinton has gotten herself in some hot water over her use of a personal e-mail account for her State Department official communications. I, Benjamin Wey, don’t want to get into the details of the personal server setup at her house, and I really don’t want to start talking about the pros and cons of Mrs. Clinton running for president. We’ll probably all be sick to death of the campaign by the end of the year, and the election isn’t until next year.

What I, Benjamin Wey, do want to focus on is the general principle that using your personal e-mail account for work is a bad idea. Simply put, business e-mail is for business matters, and personal e-mail is for personal matters. Mixing the two creates a lot of headaches.

Read more: Benjamin Wey on Sony’s Amy Pascal and E-mail Smarts

First of all, any e-mail that isn’t on the company’s domain is not under the control of the company. That may not sound like a big deal at first, but think about it. You may not have a mechanism for backing things up, no way to archive things, no security at all. That is no way to deal with business communications. Moreover, corporate anti-virus programs and practices are much more stringent than the average private user’s.

Second, the big players in providing free e-mail accounts like Google scan the contents of your e-mail. Send something by Gmail, and you may as well e-mail a copy to Google. Your corporate privacy is compromised, and Google is actively fighting to keep it that way.

Third, employees can do a great many things for the company as legal agents of the company. Someone at the firm has to actually purchase a website or set up web-hosting accounts. If that person uses a personal e-mail account to do that, the company may lose control of things when that person leaves. And from the employees’ perspective, you can be held responsible for stuff that happens on those websites or in those accounts if your e-mail is used for the owner of the account. You really don’t want that liability.

Fourth, there are other legal problems. E-mail sent on a company account is discoverable in standard legal proceedings. Those sent from a personal account are not. This could lead to audit, compliance or legal issues because the company doesn’t have a complete record. Moreover, if it is determined that your personal account has some relevant information, you could be on the receiving end of a subpoena, and all your data could be exposed.

Read more: BENJAMIN WEY: 10 Logical Business Lessons from Spock

Technological advances don’t really change this either. Millennials are not e-mailing so much as they are texting and using instant messaging. However, the very same rules apply to these kinds of communications as well. Sending a text to your boss on your personal phone to her personal phone creates issues if you are sending anything more important than, “will be 10 minutes late today.” The privacy issues, the legal discovery issues and the anti-hacking issues are all the same.

There are times when you absolutely, positively have to use a personal account as a work-around, when the company’s server is down, for instance, and you are up against a deadline. When that happens, cc your company account and that of your supervisor. You will still have security issues, but the record-keeping and compliance matters are covered.

Benjamin Wey is a financier, investigative journalist, professor and a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine and other media outlets.

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