Leaking information to reporters in Silicon Valley is an everyday occurrence. But a former employee at Yahoo is being sued for actually leaking passwords to confidential computer files inside the company to help a financial industry journalist write an unauthorized biography titled: “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!”
Business Insider journalist Nicholas Carlson acknowledges that he relied heavily on anonymous sources to tell the story of Marissa Mayer leaving as a long-time senior executive and spokesperson for Google in July of 2012, to wage an incredible two-year uphill battle to revive an Internet pioneer.
The lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court accuses the former employee, Cecile Lal of Cupertino, California, of breaching her contract and fiduciary duty. The suit states that Ms. Lal willfully gave Carlson access to a password-protected site with confidential information about the company.
The leaked information, according to the suit, includes the play-by-play interchanges between Ms. Mayer’s and staff in all-hands “FYI” meetings that took place every Friday for two years in Yahoo’s company cafeteria in Silicon Valley. Videos and transcripts of those meetings were kept on a password protected intranet site called “Backyard,” accessible to full-time employees, according to the lawsuit. The transcripts clearly were marked as confidential and warned against any content distribution or disclosure.
According to Bloomberg, in one scene detailed in Carlson’s book and a December story he wrote for the New York Times Magazine, Mayer opened up a children’s book during an “FYI” meeting and sarcastically read it to employees. In other scenes, she was asked tough questions about her controversial employee-review policy that ranked workers on a curve.
Carlson wrote in an epilogue to his book that he had initially sought the cooperation both of Mayer and of Yahoo, but was told that the company would not participate or participate in fact checking: “Not only did Yahoo PR and Mayer not participate, each told Yahoo employees, former Yahoo employees, personal friends, former colleagues, current colleagues and admirers not to speak with me for the book.”
Yahoo declined comment Friday, but alleged in the lawsuit that the book has done significant damage to the company:
“That unauthorized book has caused unnecessary distraction within Yahoo’s workforce, damaged the integrity of the FYI and Q&A processes, and undermined the conduct of every other Yahoo employee who honors his or her promise to safeguard confidential information that the company shares with its employees.”
Yahoo alleges that “Lal’s breach of trust and confidentiality also destabilized the trust on which Yahoo relies in providing its employees with the greatest level of information Yahoo has ever shared with its workforce.”
Lal has not made any press comments. But according to her LinkedIn profile, she joined the company in 2009. When she left in September 2014, he position was as a senior director of product management, custom-branded experiences and partner portals.
Nicholas Carlson seems extremely concerned that he will also be sued the target of a Yahoo civil suit and could face criminal liability if indicted by the Santa Clara County District Attorney. He said via a direct message on Twitter that he’d been advised not to comment on the suit.
But Carlson tweeted: “I’ve got a few recommendations already, but I’m looking for a very good first amendment lawyer, if you know one.”
The press is already taking Carson’s side in the affair. Kara Swisher of Bloomberg News tweeted: “What an idiotic move: Yahoo Sues Ex-Staffer Claiming She Gave Secrets to Writer.” But unlike the most “kiss and tell” books on Silicon Valley that offer up juicy dirt on tech company personalities and activities, Carlson may have crossed the line by going from reporter to hacker to get the goods on Marissa Mayer and Yahoo.