Yahoo’s General Counsel: Admonishment Regarding Leaks…Music Too My Ears!

Michael D. Moberly   September 28, 2012

Few words can accurately convey how refreshing and encouraging it is to not just see this language produced in some non-descript corporate memo or employee handbook, but assertively voiced by a newly appointed general counsel of a major media company, i.e.…

“…Yahoo has a one-of-a-kind combination of assets. It is a leading global brand, has cutting-edge advertising platforms, huge scale and audience, a talented work force, and innovative technologies. As the growth of online advertising continues, we are well-positioned to leverage our brand, audience and offerings more effectively than ever before…”


“…it’s never OK to share information in an internal memo, even if the company issues public communications about the same subject, so, also off-limits for sharing are internal presentations and emails, confidential product and business plans, and revenue projections…”


“…we will fire employees who leak company confidential information and we will avail ourselves of all other legal remedies to protect those confidences, and, if you do it, you can go to jail and face a very large fine…”

This language came from Yahoo’s newly appointed general counsel, Ron Bell.  There’s little  doubt it was prompted, in whole or in part by a series of employee leaks to media regarding…well, it doesn’t really matter all that much to me what was leaked, what matters, is the fact that is was leaked!

So, what speaks to me, in this language, and I presume too many of my information asset protection colleagues as well, is that here is a professional, yes, an attorney, who appears, at least at the outset of his tenure, to clearly understand the potentially devastating and irreversible economic, competitive advantage, and reputation consequences which information asset leaks can impose on a company.

After all, in this knowledge-based global business environment, when 65+% of most company’s value, sources of revenue, and ‘building blocks’ for growth and sustainability lie in – evolve directly from intangible assets, one of course, is information, such admonitions not only make good business sense, they are, in many respects, business requisites!  But, before I go further, it is only appropriate for me, in good conscience, to distinguish leaks of the type referenced by Mr. Bell from those that may fall under genuine ‘whistleblower’ circumstances.

Interestingly, Kara Swisher, in her September 24th column at, suggested Bell’s earnest tone may be setting an unwinnable goal for Yahoo, or perhaps any company or organization for that matter, which after all, Swisher wrote, “people like to talk and share information, especially at a media company.”

What has, is, and in all likelihood will continue to affect Bell’s sensible and shrewd goal is that companies must consider the reality that in a growing number of instances, information that’s been tagged as proprietary, confidential, sensitive, and/or non-public, can be somewhat of a canard.  That is, there is, simply stated, fewer bits and bytes of information, irrespective of safeguards and/or classification that cannot be gleaned rather legally from open sources using extraordinarily sophisticated and nanosecond paced data collection and business-competitive intelligence software.  But too, there is a growing assortment of legacy free players, i.e., economic, competitive advantage adversaries globally, who warrant every company’s constant vigilance.

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