LinkedIn Company Groups create privacy concerns

LinkedIn Company Groups create privacy concerns

Summary: Potential privacy issues through social media are currently taking the form of a beast that many companies are fighting hard to combat. With these seemingly private groups, employees with less understanding of how third-party communities work may share potentially proprietary information about customers, partners, product roadmaps or even financials.

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LinkedIn recently rolled out its Company Groups, which according to the site is a "private place on LinkedIn where you can communicate and collaborate with your co-workers." These groups are not company-run or managed; they are automatically populated with LinkedIn users who list Company A as his or her current employer and who have seemingly valid Company A email addresses. This level of verification is not uncommon with social networking tools (this method is similar to how Facebook sets permissions for company networks). However it's the encouragement of private conversations that brings about the biggest privacy concerns.

Potential privacy issues through social media are currently taking the form of a beast that many companies are fighting hard to combat. With these seemingly private groups, employees with less understanding of how third-party communities work may share potentially proprietary information about customers, partners, product roadmaps or even financials.

While employees should never share unapproved company information via an external social networking site, LinkedIn’s lack of management tools for an assigned, verified company representative is also disconcerting -- especially since these groups seem to be generated largely in part by honor system.

According to LinkedIn's help documents for Company Groups:

"When someone leaves the company and updates their position on their LinkedIn profile, they are automatically removed from the company network since the company network is for current employees only."

Great! But then...

"If the person has forgotten to update their LinkedIn profile, you can flag their position to indicate that they no longer work at the company and that they should be removed from the company network. The system will take these flags into account and seek to re-confirm the user's work email address if they try and access the company network."

Let me paint the potential scene into a concise little picture:

  • Employee A leaves Company A to go to Company B – perhaps a competitor?
  • Employee A does not change his or her current employer on LinkedIn
  • Employees B-Z continue to have unmoderated conversations about Company A in its LinkedIn Company Group
  • Employee A has access to this information until a diligent employee of Company A happens to notice that Employee A is still on the list and then notifies LinkedIn
  • Employee A continues to have access until LinkedIn verifies the flagged concern and deactivates Employee A’s access (currently no reported timeline for doing so)

Even if management tools were in place for company representatives to control memberships and content, these types of conversations on social networks are scary. In fairness to LinkedIn, the site is not ultimately responsible for controlling the content and practices of its users when it comes to proprietary matters. The companies and their employees are. Thus creating yet another case for companies, regardless of whether or not they have a social media culture, to administer social media communications guidelines to its employees.

LinkedIn's Company Groups are currently in beta and are likely having some kinks worked out on the back end. I'd like to see the LinkedIn team take these issues into account as they are preparing the general release of the service. Or, at the very least, include some warnings for employees to check their companies' social media policies before encouraging them to share any information.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Collaboration

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9 comments
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  • Great call.

    Agree that the social conversation part of LinkedIN company groups is problematic. Luckily most companies already have policies regarding public forums. I bet even WholeFoods had a policy in place while their CEO blatantly abused it. :-)

    I noticed that my membership in my ex-employer's group had been flagged recently even though I had immediately updated my profile. So I suspect the "remove on change in position function" is not working very well.

    -RS
    RStiennon
    • Ah, I was wondering that.

      So it notifies you if you have been flagged? I was curious to know if anyone had been flagged by a former employer and how quickly the concern was addressed by LinkedIn. This gives me even more worry.
      Jennifer Leggio
      • RE: LinkedIn Company Groups create privacy concerns

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  • Not allowed to use

    I'm not even allowed to use LinkedIn or similar sites for business related contacts at all even though it would be really useful. What can LinkedIn do to alleviate the concerns companies have about contacts?
    Ed Burnette
    • Great question, Ed.

      I know that some companies rule out LinkedIn usage primarily out of fear of their talent being recruited away (I don't agree with this; if someone wants to leave he or she will find a way to leave). But I also get that many companies are concerned about the company perception and image of having their employees on LinkedIn (based on no control over individual profiles and how the company might be represented), as well as interactive communities like the Q&As. I'd be curious to know your company's reasoning.

      As for what LinkedIn can do, I think if there was a way for them to give companies (likely an HR representative?) some sort of control over company name consistency, company profile pages and company groups, it might leadership more confidence and understanding of the service benefits. I also think that if there was an FAQ specifically written for companies that highlights the benefits of letting their employees use the tool, that could help as well.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: LinkedIn Company Groups create privacy concerns

    Although LinkedIn purports to be a social network for business, I would suggest it is in fact a socil network for people in business. There is little in it to benefit businesses directly, unless they are recruiting, and the point you raise here Jennifer is another great example.

    Some others:

    - staff members join LinkedIn, making it easy for a company's comptitors to get direct access to their best staff
    - anyone befriending a member of your staff will get to see everyone they know, including customers, that they could then connect with through other means
    - personal profiles are all about that individuals careers, with little on a profile promoting their current employer
    - no real tools for matching needs and solutions and facilitating business through LinkedIn

    The list goes on.

    I see LinkedIn as having two main uses: recruiting and finding out who does what in a company you are looking to target. For most companies, these things are threats as much as they are benefits.

    By the way, we have taken the things LinkedIn doesn't do for businesses and built them into WeCanDo.BIZ, which went live in the UK this month. I'd really value people's feedback on whether we do a better job.

    Ian Hendry
    WeCanDo.BIZ
    http://www.wecando.biz
    wecandobiz
  • RE: LinkedIn Company Groups create privacy concerns

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  • RE: LinkedIn Company Groups create privacy concerns

    Can you please what the difference is between these corporate social networks (as in company groups) and a regular company "intranet"
    dksimonp
  • RE: LinkedIn Company Groups create privacy concerns

    Can you please tell me what the difference is between these corporate social networks (as in company groups) and a regular company intranet?
    dksimonp