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Published: 2008-03-26

Blocking Social Networking Sites in the Workplace



(December 18, 2007) - Social networking sites are the current rage. Indeed, Facebook and MySpace participation is growing by leaps and bounds on a daily basis. These sites present new and different ways for users to communicate with each other.

And now, use of social networking sites is finding its way into the workplace. Is that a good thing? Not necessarily, at least according to some employers, as they are blocking employee access to such sites.

An analysis of data submitted by thousands of Barracuda Web Filter customers demonstrates that as many as 50.2% of businesses using these filters are setting up barriers to MySpace and/or Facebook.

The breakdown shows that 44% of companies utilizing Barracuda filters block MySpace, 26% block Facebook, 24.6% block only MySpace, 6.3% block only Facebook, 19.3% block both of these sites, meaning that 50.2% block one or both sites, and 49.8% block neither site.

In a separate survey of IT security professionals by Barracuda Networks, results indicate that 53% of businesses presently use Web filtering systems to restrict employee Web surfing, and 65% expect to do so in 2008.

On top of all of this, Barracuda reports that 21% of businesses actively monitor employee Internet activity, 6% put in place time restrictions on employee Internet use, and 3% augment company restrictions with further clamp-downs by department or employee.

Welcome to the business world version of Big Brother, right? What's up? Why are employers so concerned? Well, employers do have some legitimate reasons to worry.

According to the Barracuda survey, the chief concern is fear of viruses or spyware (cited by 70% of respondents), with potential drain on employee productivity as the second greatest worry (cited by 52% of respondents).

Employers raise bandwidth issues (cited by 36% of respondents) and potential liability issues (cited by 28% of respondents) as additional reasons to put restrictions on Internet access by employees.

Nevertheless, businesses may learn eventually that the types of powerful communication tools now available for personal purposes on social networking sites can be leveraged for perfectly appropriate and advantageous business reasons. In fact, a number of business professionals already are communicating with one and other on LinkedIn.com, a business-oriented social networking site.

The challenge for employers going forward is to continue to protect themselves from intrusions such as viruses and spyware, and to keep employee productivity up and potential liability down, all while becoming positioned to utilize the most robust Internet communication tools possible.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes.  His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com.  To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.

This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.