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The recent debate about how to control employees using office time and networks to connect to social networks seems to have been something of a phony war. In spite of the time and effort spent on developing systems and policies to deal with the issue social networking within the workplace continues to rise. According to a survey by Internet content security provider Trend Micro, social networking at workplaces globally has risen to 24 per cent in 2010 from 19 per cent in 2008. The largest increase in social networking over corporate Internet connections during the last two years was among employees in Germany, which saw a more than 10 per cent jump, and the UK, with a six per cent rise.

Even for those firms who have succeeded in winning their own ‘battle’ with the problems associated with inappropriate levels of social networking, the victory can be somewhat pyrrhic in that many people merely take their activities elsewhere, including outdoors where they can connect to Facebook on their smartphones.

This has given rise to the notion that it is social networkers who are the new smokers of the 21st Century, outcast yet enjoying the solidarity of their companions, huddled in doorways, chatting, spreading news and sharing ideas to the envy of their deskbound colleagues. We haven’t yet been asked to provide a ‘Facebook shelter’ for them, but maybe it’s a matter of time.

Posted by Ann Clarke

Over this weekend two news articles came to light both involving personal data and the internet. The first was Facebook’s new default privacy settings.  These opened up more of members’ information to the web and their business partners.  This includes information about family and employer. In Facebook’s defence, users do need to accept these policy changes, but how many of us really read all the fine detail when an ‘Accept’ box pops up. The second involves Google and their Street View mapping. Many countries have felt uneasy about Google’s cars taking photos of people’s houses and business and publishing it online without people even knowing – let alone accepting – this. However, as anyone can walk down your street and look at your house then it does not offer any more information than can be accessed by walking past or so we thought.

It hasn’t been until the German authorities audited the data and found that over the past 3 years Google have been collecting samples of ‘payload’ data sent on open wireless networks, including photos, emails and web sites.  Google are of course sorry about this and are not too sure why they are collecting the data or what they were going to do with it (this is more worrying to me than the fact they are collecting the data).

So what’s the harm in any of these changes?  You wouldn’t put anything on the internet that you wouldn’t want anyone to see would you?  But that’s not the only danger. More and more companies are finding ways to mine data from these sites and build up a profile of you and more dangerously where you are.  An example of this is a site called Please Rob Me.  Please Rob Me mines data from Twitter, to work out if you’re at home or not and making you a target for a burglary.  Facebooksearch searches status updates on Facebook, so adding ‘hung over’ as your status will not be good when you’ve just rung in sick and your boss finds out. Should we be surprised by any of this?  Well, perhaps not.  After all, you get nothing in this world for free.  How else can Facebook and Google make the vast fortunes that they do?  They sell advertising to companies and if Facebook and Google are unable to do this competitively then ultimately it will cease to be.  So the choice may be how much information are you comfortable with ANYONE knowing. By Michael Creasey