Social Network Cooties

Another report about employers, employees, and network usage, of 200 corporate IT folks in the U.S. and Canada.  The good news:  Employees under 30 “tend to be computer savvy and are brimming with new ideas.”  The bad news:  50% of those surveyed said that Gen Y employees were either “a major security concern” or “somewhat of a security concern” because of their tendency “to frequent social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.”  Gen Y employees, they fear, expose company computer networks to viruses through unsafe downloading and imperil proprietary information through profligate personal disclosures.

The first concern seems reasonable but I wonder about the second.  I’m always surprised by the extent to which many Facebook users reveal personal details as if they lived their lives on Page 6 of The New York Post.  The article, however, provided no link between such openness/exhibitionism (take your pick) and revelation of company secrets.  The money quote on this point falls short:

Users of social-networking sites tend to be unusually trusting and willing to share information, said Scott Mitic, chief executive of TrustedID in Redwood City, which offers identity-theft protection services. While they would never dream of leaving their trash cans out when going on vacation, they often seem unconcerned about revealing details of planned trips on social-networking sites.  “I can tell you right now of my friends on Facebook whose house I should be breaking into,” he said. “I know who’s in Russia now. I know who’s on a business trip to L.A.”

Okay, but there’s no disclosure of state secrets.  I’d expect an anecdote or two, at least, supporting this concern.  Without data it’s a back-handed slap grounded in Gen Y behavior stereotypes.

6 thoughts on “Social Network Cooties”

  1. At a certain point, especially once the recession ends and jobs increase, these companies will have to get over their misgivings about social network use (apart from using the internet on company time, which is a legitimate efficiency concern). As an example, the FBI has recently compromised on their no marijuana use policy for Special Agents because they realize that in 5 years about 40% of their workforce will be mandatorily retired due to labor-retirement laws for federal agents, and they understand that marijuana use is only increasing. They now ask for a detailed history of marijuana use, but many new agents are being accepted who have used marijuana.
    Companies will be forced to re-evaluate their standards of hiring as lifestyles – and technology – change and advance in the ‘Digital Age.’

  2. As you pointed out, the article does seem to make assertions with little supporting details. Despite this, I think even with supporting details I find it hard to believe that a site such as Facebook is going to lead to the severe compromise of a company’s trade secrets or something of the sort. Perhaps part of the reason why the article failed to find any sufficient evidence could be attributed to the fact that a large majority of people are not talking about business matters on social networking sites. While many membes of networking sites seem to disregard personal image when posting messages or photos, this does not correlate to individuals doing the same with business information. I’d also like to mention that security and monitoring of downloadable content is much better on facebook than on myspace.

    Overall, the use of social networking sites certainly should be frowned upon in the workplace. I don’t believe they pose a serious legal or security threat to any company. It is possible that as the number of Gen Y employees increases that we see a greater frequency of security breakdowns due to sites such as Myspace, but really, the article is essentially pure speculation.

  3. You would be surprised as to how much information one can dig up on someone by just knowing their email address or an alias that they use commonly online. Often, these can easily be traced back to a social networking website which can potentially reveal even more information to a stranger. While I would doubt that Facebook or MySpace could cause any highly valued trade secrets to be revealed, I wouldn’t be surprised if it lead to an employee being disciplined (see: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1080010/Call-centre-worker-caught-boss-posting-sickie-plan-Facebook.html).

  4. I think that Scott Mitic, chief executive of TrustedID, is simply using scare tactics to drum up some identity-theft business from deep pocket companies and the author of the article jumped on his bandwagon by writing this article.

    While it's true that many people inappropriately blab about every personal detail of their lives on social media sites like Facebook, work related posts usually consist of bitch-and-moan comments about colleagues or comments about how the person doesn't feel appreciated by their superiors.

    Anyone who is stupid enough to post company secrets on a social media site deserves to be kicked out the door or worse.

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