Jessica Nall and Josh Malone discuss legal pitfalls, compliance issues, and the digital minefield that arises when employees use ephemeral messaging apps to conduct business in an article published by Bloomberg Law.

Employees are using communication modes other than company e-mail to communicate for business—including texts and ephemeral messaging apps like WhatsApp or Telegram— which creates challenges for companies investigating potential wrongdoing within its ranks and for government investigators conducting parallel or follow-on inquiries.

When business communications occur on platforms that companies do not control, there can sometimes be no way for them or the company or the government to access the information necessary to understand and remediate compliance failures.

And when important pieces of the factual puzzle are missing, investigators may infer that the unavailable messages contained evidence of wrongdoing. Instead of producing key, potentially exculpatory information, the company risks losing out on cooperation credit with the government or discovery sanctions for spoliation.
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At a recent panel organized by San Francisco’s Federal Bar Association, the San Francisco Regional Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Jina Choi, confirmed that the agency continues to focus on investor fraud in the pre-IPO private market space. Highlighting enforcement actions against the non-public Zenefits, Credit Karma, and Theranos[1]

Last week the SEC announced it had reached an agreement with privately-held company Zenefits, and its co-founder and former CEO Parker Conrad, to settle allegations that Zenefits materially misled Series B and C investors. The parties agreed to settle for over a combined $980,000 (Zenefits agreed to pay $450,000, with Conrad responsible for the balance). This appears to be a first-of-its-kind SEC enforcement action against a privately-held company, reflecting this ongoing enforcement priority for the agency in Silicon Valley. 
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Blog-Image---TechnologyAfter a series of compliance failures leading to the resignation of company’s CEO, the privately-held health care brokerage company Zenefits was just hit with a $7 million dollar settlement by the California Department of Insurance (DIR). The terms of the settlement may reflect a new trend in compliance enforcement, namely that regulators are trading monetary penalties for oversight over privately-held companies.
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The brightest minds in Silicon Valley work 24/7 to disrupt existing systems and industries. No one can argue that Uber and Lyft haven’t fundamentally altered transportation, that AirBnB hasn’t changed the way we travel, or that Netflix hasn’t rendered brick and mortar video rental stores obsolete. Can those same minds harness the innovative energy of the region to make it easier for regulated industries to comply with state and federal laws? At least one Silicon Valley company thinks so, and is exploring new ways to marry its technological expertise with its compliance obligations.
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