The social networking site Facebook continues its ubiquitous spread through the corporate world and, amid productivity impacts and security concerns, many organisations have simply shut down employee access to the site.
Ironically, considering that it was developed for students to share information, it is also barred in some South African universities as students tie up educational resources to pursue social relationships.
Research by IT security and control firm Sophos reveals that 50% of workers are being blocked from accessing Facebook by their employers who are worried about the website's impact on productivity and security, and have therefore put policies or access controls in place to ban its use in the workplace.
In a Sophos poll, 43% of workers reveal that their company is blocking access to Facebook, while an additional 7% reports restricteid usage, with only those with a specific business requirement allowed to access it.
However, 50% of respondents said that their company did not block access to Facebook, with 8% specifying that the reason is fear of employee backlash.
A second poll showed that 66% of workers are concerned that their colleagues are sharing too much information on Facebook, which could lead to identity theft and targeted phishing attacks against the company.
According to Sophos, a large number of Facebook profile pages contain users' current employment details, which could be used together with other stolen information by cyber criminals bent on committing corporate fraud, or to infiltrate company networks. Last week, Sophos published research showing that 41% of Facebook users were prepared to divulge personal information to a complete stranger (a small plastic frog called Freddi Staur), highlighting the extent of the problem facing businesses.
Companies seem split on the question of Facebook.
“Some believe it to be a procrastinator's paradise which can lead to identity theft if users are careless. Others either see it as a valuable networking tool for workers or are too nervous of employees backlash if the site is suddenly blocked," says Brett Myroff, CEO of master Sophos distributor, NetXactics.
"Companies need to make up their own mind as to whether they want to allow users to access social networking websites like Facebook during office hours. If workers are given access to these sites, it is however imperative that they are taught best practices to ensure that they are not putting their personal and corporate data at risk. Five minutes spent learning the ins-and-outs of Facebook's privacy settings, for instance, could save a lot of heartache later," he adds.
In related news, a recruitment company beleives that people who interact on social networking sites on the web – or who make reckless or fanciful comments on their own blogs – might be jeopardising their employment or career advancement.
The chances are that employers are increasingly accessing these sites and picking up on unsavoury commentary, says Org Geldenhuys, a director of Abacus Recruitment.
Geldenhuys says the new tendency to "air all" on the Internet is particularly coming from the younger generation. This includes university and technikon students as well as "twenty-something people already in the workplace".
"The world is increasingly becoming a digital world and any expressions printed on the Web remain there for all to read – not just for now, but for a long time in the future. Students who post hilarious stories about their weekend antics, as well as pictures of the latest pub crawl, don't realise that potential employers might just access these sites.
"Which employer is going to hire someone when they see a picture of the candidate falling around, drunk, at a varsity party? The employer will think, ok, let's rather err on the side of caution here – let's not hire this person.
"So varsity graduates who are looking for jobs – who have posted fun times on their personal blogs – might just consider this for a moment.
"Everything on the Internet is public domain. If you think posting some off-the-wall thoughts about childish pranks, or some serious political thoughts – together with some dodgy 'fun' pictures – is going to advance your career possibilities, well, think again," says Geldenhuys.
Statistics show that up to 20% of employers are using social networking sites to run job searches on job applicants, while 68% of employers use search engines to check on candidates.