Big Brother is Indeed Watching You: The Spy Side of Social Networking

You can run but you cannot hide. Think again about flaming the boss on Facebook. There's a new sheriff in town to monitor employee online activity. Will this software catch you?

Today, a colleague, Katherine Jones, offers up this post. Katherine and I worked together years ago at Aberdeen. We've recently teamed on a new client engagement. Here's her take on a new twist on social networking software.

The CIA will soon have nothing on the social networking watchdogs. Teneros has launched a product that is designed to let a company monitor its employees’ social networking activities. Not that employers who wanted to see what employees past and present might say about them – but it would have been a labor intensive job. Now its automated – employers can discover and monitor their employees’ Facebook and Twitter posts and tweets – with more sites promised (YouTube, MySpace, and LinkedIn, for example).

Now there is a business benefit in some cases: let’s say you as an employee want to spill the beans on an upcoming product or corporate strategy, go off on a politically incorrect tirade, use Facebook as a vehicle to blow the whistle on perceived or misperceived shady behavior, or start rumors of an impending acquisition or anything that might affect shareholder value. It may be important for the company to know these things, although clearly, one would hope that corporate-employee relations were such that better judgment on the employee’s part might prevail.

Want to grouse about your job? Your manager? Don’t use your PDA, cellphone, or laptop to do it if you don’t want it discovered. Employees used to feel some security in the fact that it was unlikely that the company had dedicated a resource to looking up all employees’ posts every day. Now this SaaS tool —called Social Sentry —discovers the employee’s social network presence and monitors employee social network activity occurring from any device or network including mobile devices. (It’s unclear if it can track employees’ comments on GlassDoor.com and sites of that sort.)

Can’t you see it now: a new job position within Corporate America called Employee Social Network Monitor, or perhaps Employee Blog Investigator (the EBI?) or maybe just Tweet Police? And the policy implications: is this a one strike or three strikes and you’re out? Can employee contracts prohibit employees from social networking—(unlikely, as we still have the First Amendment)? What will the unions say? Is this an HR position? A security officer position? Will each manager be chartered with reviewing alerts that signal that a staff member has posted something that mentioned the company? The manager? And what are the shades of grey in what constitutes bad blogging behavior in cases other than direct violation of contracts—such as pre-announcing a corporate secret strategy.

Social Sentry, Teneros says, creates reports and analyzes social network usage by employees across time, source and network…humm, how about:

Inhibiting social networking through monitoring may be chasing that proverbial horse that is now long gone from the barn – but the initial actions for companies is to develop legally defensible policies to cover both employee activities and the actions that company can legitimately undertake.