Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Facebook in the Enterprise: The Reality Factor

This morning Tim Ferguson filed a story on CNET that nicely complemented my recent post about the impact of Facebook on worker productivity. Ferguson's story is about a poll recently conducted by the security company Sophos, which he nicely summarizes in his "secondary" headline:

Half of businesses are restricting employees' access to social-networking site Facebook, due to concerns about productivity and security.

The productivity factor basically aligned with the results I had previously reported, so much of my interest was in the security side of the coin. Here are the results that caught (seized?) my attention:

The issue of security was also raised by the Sophos research. In a separate poll by the company, 66 percent of workers said they are concerned about colleagues sharing information on Facebook.

Details such as employment history and mobile phone numbers have been found on the site and could be used for identity theft or to launch corporate phishing attacks, security experts warn.

Sophos research found that 41 percent of Facebook users are willing to divulge personal information to complete strangers.

Sophos last week released the results of a Facebook ID probe indicating that a relatively large percentage of people were willing to divulge e-mail addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers and other data to a stranger--a fake character created by Sophos, in this case--who requested "friend" status of 200 randomly selected Facebook members.

"Everyone's just sort of letting it all hang out online without thinking who might be watching," [Graham] Cluley [a Sophos "senior technology consultant"] said.

So, if JP Rangaswami really does believe in that "wisdom of crowds," then is there not some element of "wisdom" in those 66 percent of the participants in the Sophos survey; and, if so, what does that wisdom entail?

My guess is that this is not a story about the triumph of an "economics of abundance" over an "economics of scarcity," as JP has recently tried to argue. (Indeed, I find the very concept of an economics of abundance to be as suspect as any other utopian ideal; but that is another story better told by H. G. Wells or Isaiah Berlin!) Rather this story involves an issue raised in a comment by Peter Smith, which is the proper role of freedom in enterprise work. Smith sees enterprise management through the lens of the conflict between freedom and controls; but I wonder if this might be a case where we should be thinking in terms of a dialectical synthesis, rather than an opposition. Just as Justice Holmes recognized that freedom of speech is not the freedom to shout "Fire!" in a crowded building, enterprise managers need to find the right mix of freedom and controls that can derive benefit for social networking sites while remaining cognizant of their risks and liabilities. This is clearly no easy matter; but, in a world of complexities and consequences, why should we kid ourselves into believing that major management decisions should be easy?

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