No matter how carefully chosen and tight knit your team may be, it’s important to remember that they are fallible people who make mistakes -- and could always decide to go elsewhere should a new opportunity arise.
An ongoing legal conflict between Alphabet and Uber has thrown this fact into stark relief. Earlier this winter, Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, brought a lawsuit against the embattled ride-hailing service, alleging that Uber stole the proprietary design of a system built in its vehicles.
A key person in the case is Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who left Waymo and launched self-driving truck company Otto, which he sold to Uber, where he is currently the VP of Engineering.
When Levandowski worked at Waymo, he said that he downloaded a trove of data about the company’s self-driving technology onto his laptop so he could work remotely. Waymo alleges that Levandowski used that information to build his company.
But this may not have come to light had it not been for a mistaken email.
In December, a Waymo employee received an email from a vendor intended for Uber. In the email were specs for Otto’s circuit board technology -- a central system for the self-driving vehicles -- that Waymo alleges looks very similar to the tech it's developing.
So what can you learn all of this?
If your company works with patented information or simply sensitive data, make sure that your protocols for file sharing and remote work are up to date and clear to everyone.
Also, consider what preemptive moves you can make -- such as having your employees sign nondisclosure agreements -- if you are concerned about the work falling into the hands of a competitor.
And, of course, take some time to check that your emails are going to the intended recipients.
We've reached out to Waymo for more details and will update with any comment.