Google’s version of spring cleaning apparently involves wiping away the entirety of its social media platform. The company’s Google Plus will officially be no more come April in the wake of yet another data leak that impacted 52.5 million users early last month.
The move puts a bit of a clock on attorneys and e-discovery professionals looking to salvage data from the platform that could be relevant to future litigation. Indeed, the impending closure illustrates just exactly how tricky taking responsibility for communications made on a third-party platform can be. And as a new generation of young, social media savvy employees continues to move up the ranks, companies and their lawyers may find themselves having to devote more time and resources to successfully identifying and locating every pertinent scrap of data before the ground shrinks beneath their feet.
“I hate to throw in the word ‘Millennial,’ but younger employees are more often using a social media platform of some sort to communicate more often than not. As younger users are in the workforce, the likelihood of needing to collect this data becomes greater,” said Barry Schwartz, senior vice president of advisory services at e-discovery provider BIA.
If you’re hoping to knock on Google’s door two years from now and request access to an important kernel of data from the heyday of Google Plus, chances are you’d be out of luck. Absent a subpoena or another formal document, the company isn’t necessarily required to pack away the data from its platform for a rainy day.
Schwartz could envision a scenario where Google holds onto info collected on Google Plus to protect itself from potential litigation, but the onus of preserving relevant data or conversations rooted in a social media platform still falls to the applicable parties.
“Everybody that I’ve spoken with and most of our clients, whether they be law firm or corporate, is aware that their employees and potential custodians may have talked about things on platforms that aren’t necessarily official platforms of their employer,” Schwartz said.
Obtaining information located on a social media platform is usually simple enough. Custodians of the account typically provide signed consent and a password that allows an organization to access and preserve relevant data. Locating or determining the existence of that data to begin with is where the work comes into play.
The test for whether or not a piece of information needs to be put on litigation hold begins with whether or not litigation can be reasonably anticipated. Like most things that involve some variation on the word “reasonable,” that line can quickly become a little fuzzy.
“You and I could have had a conversation last week about something completely innocuous but we discussed something that eventually became involved in litigation. But who knows?” Schwartz said.
Entities attempting to determine any overlap between data on legal hold and Google Plus can tighten their search parameters with the help of questionnaires distributed to any and all information custodians involved in pending litigation. Questions would revolve around whether or not the custodians discussed events related to the litigation on social media, what platforms they’ve used and the nature of what was said.
“Personally I would expect that not many people would raise their hands and say they used Google Plus,” Schwartz said.
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