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Today I opened a social network and saw that one of my coworkers, let's call him Bob, posted a piece of source code of one of our projects.

The quick video is blurry, so it's hard to actually read it, but not impossible. IANAL but I'm pretty sure that this is illegal.

There is no way that anyone else in my company will see it since no one has that social network but for me.

As I see it I have 3 options:

  • Act as if I did not see it
  • Talk to him in private and make him realize how potentially bad this could end up being, for him and the company.
  • Report this to my boss.

Additional information:

This is the first work experience for Bob and he has been working with us for less than 3 months.

My question is: How should I behave in this situation?

I really don't want to escalate this, but if something bad happens because of that post, and my boss finds out I knew about it, I think I would be in legal danger.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Jan 21 at 7:19

11 Answers 11

77

Just speak personally, but make things unambiguous.

That's a great video, but it might be a good idea to remove the company specific stuff - just in case the manager sees it, I'm not too sure how they'd take seeing that there.

And then leave the implied outcome hanging and let your colleague decide what to do.

42

I think the answer depends on what code is visible in the video. If it's a "Hello, World!" type fragment, some loop that's meaningless without larger context, or an implementation of a simple standard algorithm like a linked list, etc., I would not consider it to be a big deal; Stack Overflow is full of such code and no harm is done. Simply speak to your colleague, and suggest they should be careful when posting videos of source code so as not to leak anything important.

If one can see in the video a fragment of something critical to your company, such as an implementation of a proprietary algorithm, or encryption, or user authentication, you need to act to make sure the video is removed ASAP. Where I work this would be a major security incident that must be immediately reported to the security response team and to management.

23

How did he post the code? Screen shot? Video with his monitor in the background? Are machine readable text that I could copy, paste and compile? You say "it's blurry and hard but not impossible to read", so I assume it is a video with a monitor visible?

If that is the case, then let's be serious here: Nobody will be interested in that piece of code. The source code that I'm working on is highly valuable, but if one page of it is shown in a video, it's not of any use to anybody. One page, randomly picked, without any context, is completely useless to anybody. Nobody will even try to copy it.

Unless there are comments in the code that you wouldn't want to share like "this function contains the code where we siphon off the user's address book and send it to our server, and the losers will never find out", then very little harm is done.

  • 3
    I had the same thought. A screenshot of code does not contain any real information, it's just a prop. – Džuris Jan 19 at 0:25
  • 2
    But copyright probably still applies(?). – Peter Mortensen Jan 19 at 10:17
  • 3
    @PeterMortensen Copyright always applies but it's not always reasonable to enforce it. That even applies to Oracle's burn-down-the-rainforest attempts to copyright the Java API. Also consider that the programmer will have brought in ways of coding and snippets that he learned from books and other employment. It's a give and take... – David Tonhofer Jan 19 at 17:23
  • While it's technically a copyright violation, one of two screens of a large application probably wouldn't divulge any significant proprietary information. – Barmar Jan 19 at 17:59
  • I agree, the code is probably useless, this seems like a non-problem. – GrandmasterB Jan 20 at 0:20
5

my boss finds out I knew about it, I think I would be in legal danger

If that code is important and has any security risk - Most definitely. You may only receive a warning if it is just generic code.

However I feel this line almost answers your question. You already said that it's your first time working with this person, you have no loyalties. It may be that the colleague in question doesn't know any better and needs educating.

You should tell your colleague to remove it and then tell your manager of what has happened and go from there for the off chance that the manager does see it you want to make sure he's informed so that your own job and financial safety is held.

5

It is professional to call out security violations.

Whenever you see something dangerous happening, or a non-dangerous mistake for that matter, it would be professional to bring that to the attention of those who did it and those who can fix it. In the best case, those who did it and those who can fix it are the same person, and there is no need to deliver a "reprimand" in public.

To give you a trivial example, I've told juniors, peers, and seniors that they have forgotten to lock their screen while they were away from their desk. By and large, they said oops, sorry, I'll be more careful next time and I've left it at that.

See something, say something, but I'm not the security manager.

I've also seen things which were more of a pattern rather than individual mistakes. In those cases I went to the management and told them we have a systematic problem, it needs a systematic answer, without naming any specific names. (I'm fortunate that I trust them not to press me on individual names.)

4

You don't really have a choice: Your employer would probably tell you that you should go directly to your supervisor and report the incident. I don't think this would be ilegal, but it is probably against information security codes or regulations inside your company.

Now, as a human being, you could also talk to the guy first, tell him to delete that, and not post anything of the sort again. But you must understand the risk of this if HR of a supervisor were to find out.

3

If possible present the video (in its context) to your information security team without mentioning who the employee is, something along the lines of "I came across this video from one of our employees and it looks like they may have accidentally caught some of our code in the video". If you are asked who the employee is, it is better for you and the company to tell the information security team and let them handle it.

Even if we were to remove the video content, there may be policies against the use of recording devices within the workplace (phones with video/audio recording capabilities are generally included for the purposes of these policies).

Best case scenario: all employees are reminded of their responsibilities and the employee responsible receives a soft strike on their record.

Worst case scenario: the employee loses their job and faces a civil case.

Handling the situation yourself could carry more risk than ignoring it or reporting it to the information security team. While I don't advocate ignoring it, it does provide you the option of deniability "I don't interact with x on the platform so I couldn't have seen it" (admittedly the posting of this question could reduce your ability to rely on that). Handling the situation yourself though, opens you up to the employee continuing this behaviour and you handling it, eventually you get fed up, report it and the employee throws you under the bus in desperation/retaliation.

As a bonus for one of your comments on your bosses not liking social media, this is a good example of why. People tend to forget that social media is not like hanging out with a group of friends at your home; it's more like hanging out with a group of friends in a crowded pub and you never know who is watching or listening.

2

I don't fully agree with all the answers so far because they leave too much wiggle room.

  1. I am assuming that posting anything on social media that includes software or any information about your employer is against policy.
  2. If all your code contains a boilerplate copyright blow, your co-worker has violated that copyright and could be in legal trouble depending on copyright law in Italy.
  3. You now know about this violation, and it is your duty to your employer to report it. Do NOT tip off your co-worker, when he gets in trouble he is going to be looking for someone to blame and he might use you

Most employers take this kind of thing very seriously, often too seriously.

Now, not every company is like that, but the way you phrased the question your employer is not one of those places that encourages people to participate in social sharing.

Some employers have anonymous tip lines. You may consider using this and providing them with any information you have including the employees name and the site/link he posted to.

At a minimum inform you boss. Keep it factual and just express your concern and that you felt it your duty to pass it along and let them handle it how they see fit.

  • 3
    Regarding your number 2, in most cases, the copyright boilerplate is completely irrelevant: the code is protected by copyright whether it's there or not! – Jasper Jan 19 at 19:37
  • Number 2 is also subject to "wiggle room". The concept of Fair Use under copyright law allows this. The law too considers that if the infringement is so small ("de minimis") it can't affect company, then it's legal. – user71659 Jan 19 at 20:26
  • user71659, that may be the law, but it's going to cost this guy a lot of money to defend himself against a bunch of company lawyers with money to burn. I also don't think sharing your employers source code for a personal blog is 'fair use', but that just my opionion. – Bill Leeper Jan 22 at 15:23
1

The person is new to the workplace, suggesting they are quite young. I would recommend letting the manager know about it. You can tell the manager (assuming they won't consider it themselves), that a firm talking to by them now would make it clear what a person's responsibilities are in the professional environment and what is not acceptable despite the ease with which people post all sorts of personal information online.

1

The first thing you should do is consulting your company's policy for information security. Even if there is non your steps should probably be more or less similar.

Now since Bob is apparently a fresh in the industry in general he probably underestimates the significance of what he did but also might be handled a little bit gentler. So my action would be two way:

  1. Talk to Bob and explain what he posted is putting a company at risk and can actually lead to legal action against him, including but not limited to firing him. You have to report that to the manager and you recommend him to remove it ASAP to avoid further damage and show his will to limit harm. Suggest he goes with you and explains everything himself. I would go along these lines "You know Bob, putting even a brief shot of company code is against company policy and puts company at risk of code being stolen and can put you in serious trouble. They might even fire you. Unfortunately the harm is done so you should really take next steps. You have to remove the recording and I should actually report it to the manager, but we can go together and if you report it yourself it will look even better in his eyes."
  2. If Bob agrees, go with him to the manager and let him do the talking. Just make sure, he keeps to the facts. If Bob declines, go yourself and report the situation.

This way you have done your duty (make sure the thing is reported and the code is taken care of as quickly as possible) but you leave a chance for Bob to repair some damage and show good will, helping him to reduce the possible negative effect.

-2

Other options:

  • Mention the topic of "social networks"in a casual way at lunch and clearly state that you don't think that anything related to work should be visible in a video posted there.

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