A new service that monitors workers' use of social networks may keep employees alert to the dangers of posting confidential corporate data, but it will likely also make them feel as though the eyes of their managers are constantly upon them.
Teneros Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based messaging company, unveiled the monitoring service at the Spring Demo conference held here this week. The product, dubbed Social Sentry, helps companies keep an eye on what employees are saying on social sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Matt Weil, president and CEO of Teneros, said the goal of the service is not to monitor personal conversations but to find out whether employees are disclosing sensitive corporate information, such as financial figures, personnel data or trade secrets.
"We're not trying to tell companies to not let employees on Facebook," Weil said in an interview with Computerworld.
"There are rules that Social Sentry can set up to monitor for keywords. If keywords are triggered, companies are alerted and can react. We're not trying to keep people off Facebook. It's part of our society. But companies should have the controls to make sure sensitive material isn't being released. And if it is, companies [need to be able to] react," he added.
Weil said the service can be set up to monitor social networking activity of all employees or of a select group. Companies can also create a list of specific keywords to monitor.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said companies would be smart to monitor what their employees say about them on social networks. He expects the number of companies monitoring employees to grow.
"We've seen soldiers release battle plans, politicians release sensitive information, and employees discuss unannounced products on [social networking sites]," Enderle said. "Yes, we'll see more of this. [Any] news surrounding inappropriate discussions on [social sites] likely will force the issue."
Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., agreed that companies should monitor what their workers say about them online, but they should do it carefully.
"This will certainly appeal to those in corporate management who want to track their employees to the maximum extent allowed by the law," said Olds. "As much as [management] will like it, employees will hate it. This product tracks employee social network activity even when they are outside the workplace, which, while not illegal or anything, probably comes under the heading 'creepy' or 'overbearing' for most people."
Both Enderle and Olds agreed that some employees will feel that companies have breached their privacy.
"How creepy this is or isn't will really depend on the company wielding the tool," said Olds. "They can make it relatively benign or very invasive. It all depends on how they use the information they gather. If they take adverse action against employees based on their off-hours social networking activities, we can be sure lawsuits will ensue. And as usual, lawyers will benefit."
Social Sentry is now in the beta test phase and is slated to be available by the end of April.
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