Slack, Microsoft Teams and Channel-Based Platforms in eDiscovery Overview

Slack, Microsoft Teams and other channel-based platforms are becoming the new normal replacing email in a capacity as the daily back and forth messaging platform. With benefits of real-time interaction and integrations from file sharing to video chatting, companies have been adopting these cloud-based platforms at scale across their enterprise. With this migration comes the inherent need to be aware of common issues posed with channels and team collaboration software in order to mitigate potential risk and exposure they face down the road.

Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Twitch, Discord, Trello, Flock, the list goes on. Collaboration and chat software are popping up left and right hoping to be the next tech giant for team communications. What many of them share in common is the way they store their data in the respective channels that they are shared in. Cloud-based team collaboration software enable companies to assign “channels” of communication where team members can chat, file-share, set meetings, video-chat and more. The benefit of channels being that the data is stored in its respective channel. As opposed to email accounts where each email is archived individually, channels show identical data for every member within the channel. On the flip side, data within a channel is much more robust holding multiple topics under one general theme typically such as marketing or sales.

Common properties of a channel:

  • Channels serve as a means of communication. Commonly as an alternative to email.
  • Channels are typically segmented by department or topic.
  • Content shared within a channel is stored in that respective channel.
  • Corporations typically maintain control of the data retention & deletion policies associated with channels.
  • Channels can contain various data sources including chats, video files, audio files, images, calendars and more.
  • A channel contains two or more individuals. Without the stream of communication, a channel serves essentially no purpose.

There is limited case-law out there currently with concrete decisions centered around collaboration platforms but that doesn’t mean there isn’t guidance out there. In regards of Slack there are a handful of decisions around whether parties are required to produce Slack data. Although courts have ruled in different ways, it makes it clear that Slack and other collaboration data is fair game and counsel should not exclude it as being on the table.

In MILBECK v. TRUECAR, INC., courts did not require that Slack data be produced citing that it would be “burdensome” [1]. Yet in the following two case decisions surround Slack another two different decisions were made as a result of the varying circumstances. In Calendar Research LLC v. StubHub, Inc. et al Slack production was required [2] while in West Publishing Corp v. LegalEase Solutions, LLC Slack production was required but the seeking party was required to share in the costs related to that discovery, production and review [3]. The varying degrees of responsibility and requirement to produce shifted across each of these cases further demonstrating that predicting Slack discovery can be rough waters and the best approach is to proactively prepare until there is a clearer understanding of how to collect and review data within these sources.

Companies using channel-based platforms should be aware of these considerations when making the switch to Slack, Teams or any of the other major collaboration platforms. These collaboration software’s enable as close as we can get to real-time collaboration in this time of disconnect. It is safe to assume that the use of these platforms is on the rise and this is only the beginning to understanding the extent that channel-based platforms will play in the future of enterprise solutions. It will be worthwhile to keep an eye on upcoming case rulings in the coming months that will shed light on do’s and don’ts when it comes to collecting and producing data from these channels.

[1] MILBECK v. TRUECAR, INC. No. 2:18-cv-02612-SVW-AGR. Case Decision (Web. 31 Aug 2020)

[2] Calendar Research LLC v. StubHub, Inc. et al Case No. 2:17–cv–04062–SVW–SS (Web 31 Aug 2020)

[3] West Publishing Corp v. LegalEase Solutions, LLC CASE 0:18-cv-01445-DSD-ECW Content Uploads (Web 31 Aug 2020)

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