Wipeout: When Your Company Kills Your iPhone Configuring a personal phone or tablet to receive company e-mail opens the door to purging all of its content if an IT department remotely wipes the device. The phone's Web browser and camera can also be disabled from afar.

Wipeout: When Your Company Kills Your iPhone

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.


And I'm Melissa Block.

By now, we've learned not to expect privacy on company-issued computers and cell phones. If your employer owns the device, he controls it. But what about your personal smart phone?

As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, your employer may have some remote control over that, too.

MARTIN KASTE: Amanda Stanton found out the hard way. Traveling in L.A. for work, she was navigating with her iPhone...

Ms. AMANDA STANTON: ...and the phone went black. It just turned into a brick.

KASTE: Everything was gone: all her contacts, her photos, even her phone's ability to make calls. It was only after she got home to Silicon Valley that she found out that her phone had been killed by her employer.

Ms. STANTON: It was a huge shock.

KASTE: An IT guy had sent out what's called a remote wipe. It's a kind of auto-destruct command delivered by email. The wipe was done by mistake, and Stanton wouldn't have been surprised to see this kind of remote control on a company phone. But this iPhone was hers.

Ms. STANTON: My account in my name. I'd paid all the bills. It didn't make any sense to me that somehow, work could get through AT&T - who I thought controlled my phone - and could completely disable the phone and the account.

KASTE: But to the people at your IT department, this is old news. The moment you set up your phone to get email from a Microsoft Exchange server - which most big companies use - that server is able to send commands to your phone. And not just remote wipes. Depending on the phone, an IT person could turn off your Bluetooth signal, your Web browser, even your phone's camera.

Mr. ADAM GLICK (Senior Technical Product Manager, Microsoft Exchange): Different organizations want those controls.

KASTE: Adam Glick, senior technical product manager for Microsoft Exchange, says these commands make a phone more secure. And it is true that if your smart phone is ever stolen, you'll likely be relieved that your IT people can send a command wiping the memory.

As to remote control over other functions, like the camera, Glick says employers sometimes need those to prevent leaks.

Mr. GLICK: If you're having an important meeting about the future finances of the organization, and people put that up on a slide. And someone might take out their camera phone and take a picture, and then they might go and say, post it to the Internet.

KASTE: Anthony Davis runs IT for a manufacturing company in Seattle, and he says he makes a point of letting people know that when they opt to get company email on their personal phones, they're opting in to more than just email.

Mr. ANTHONY DAVIS: We actually have a one-page waiver that says, you know, if you're going to connect your personal phone to the corporate email system, that we do have the capability - if the phone is lost - to remote wipe it, and we will - and then have the employee, you know, agree and sign to that form.

KASTE: Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, says he's not sure what a court would say about a company that wipes an employee's phone without permission. But he'd sure like to find out.

Mr. LEWIS MALTBY (President, National Workrights Institute): I'm salivating right now at the prospect of this lawsuit.

KASTE: And it's not just phones. IT administrators can send similar commands to iPads and other personal devices that get work email.

Maltby says we're seeing a breakdown of the old paradigm that work controls work devices, and you control yours.

Mr. MALTBY: Now you have this gray world in which everything overlaps, and everything thats personal is also business and vice-versa. And now, it's a mess.

KASTE: Putting work email on a personal device may be convenient, but for Amanda Stanton, it's no longer worth the risk. After restoring her iPhone, she says she'll never put work email on it again.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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