New Tool For Snooping On Employees Who Blog - InformationWeek

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7/10/2007
03:24 PM
John Foley
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New Tool For Snooping On Employees Who Blog

A small company in the Rochester, N.Y., area is about to launch Web monitoring technology that's touted as a way to keep companies out of hot water as more employees author Weblogs and wikis. Experience shows that businesses are well advised to pay attention to what employees post online, but Techrigy's technology (part software, part service) sounds like corporate oversight taken a step too far.

A small company in the Rochester, N.Y., area is about to launch Web monitoring technology that's touted as a way to keep companies out of hot water as more employees author Weblogs and wikis. Experience shows that businesses are well advised to pay attention to what employees post online, but Techrigy's technology (part software, part service) sounds like corporate oversight taken a step too far.Techrigy bills its offering, called SM2, as a "social media compliance product." As a service, it ties into blog search engines like Technorati, looking for potentially sensitive information published by a company's employees. SM2 creates an index of what it finds and a catalog of "company violations," and provides real-time notifications to the guardians of company secrets. My colleague Nick Hoover wrote about SM2 last week. The service is due this month; a software version of SM2 for monitoring a company's internal blogs and wikis is scheduled for release later this summer.

Techrigy compares its technology to widely used e-mail monitoring tools, but there's an important difference. While companies can make a case for monitoring incoming and outgoing e-mail, sent to and from employees over corporate networks and e-mail accounts, that's not the same as monitoring employee e-mail accounts outside of work. Techrigy's service is designed to go that extra step -- monitor the Web for employee postings made from their home PCs and on their own time.

How does Techrigy president Aaron Newman defend employee snooping on Web 2.0? His argument is that many companies remain hamstrung by fear that employee blogging will expose them to legal liability or reveal company secrets, so they don't permit it all. SM2, the thinking goes, allows companies to move forward with Web 2.0 initiatives because they can be confident that safeguards are in place to keep employees on their best behavior and alert the company if they're not.

"We certainly have tried to 'do the right' thing," Newman says via e-mail, pointing to a white paper that outlines Techrigy's position.

To quote from the paper:

We strongly believe in the freedom of expression and any company that would try to restrict that freedom would likely not retain talented employees very long. However, the freedom of expression does not apply to revealing trade secrets, sharing proprietary company intellectual property, sexual harassment, or breaking other company or organizational policies.

Organizations should not leave it to employees to decide if and how blogging is acceptable. Without a set of guidelines to clearly tell when someone steps too far over the line, the result is the Wild Wild West. The vast majority of employees will use common sense when blogging. However, best practices require an organization to not only "trust" but also "verify."

The question is, Are companies so paranoid about employee behavior on the Web that they'll use this type of monitoring technology? The backlash could outweigh the benefit.

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