How to safely use Facebook and LinkedIn at work

Some tips on a company policy that won't be a joke.

The virtual flood gates have been opened and social networking is rushing in from the personal lives of employees and into the workplace -- bringing a host of concerns along with it.

Facebook is no longer restricted to the realm of college students, and LinkedIn is specifically designed for the professional world.

While some companies are banning these networks from the workplace outright, others are timidly wading into the fray to use the networks as a communications tool, experts say.

While providing another way to connect with employees, potential recruits, and a wider community, social networks have a downside. Information posted could fall into the wrong hands, and if those with malicious intent collect enough sensitive information about a company, it could mean big trouble.

We talked to experts about how companies and employees can stay safe when using Facebook and LinkedIn.

Outright ban vs. moderate use

Many businesses ban the use of social networks in the workplace entirely, worried that employees will be distracted from work or even post confidential company information.

But that might not be the best approach, according to Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's Privacy Commissioner.

"A ban will just drive people to find underground ways to use these sites," she warns. "I think a prescribed story on their use is more appropriate."

Try setting time restrictions on when employees can access their social profiles, she recommends. For example, limit its use to the lunch break.

Old-fashioned policies established to deal with what information can be made public won't cut it anymore, says Dimitri Sirota, vice-president of marketing at Vancouver-based XML security vendor Layer 7 Technologies.

For instance, many companies rely on software to block e-mail sent out with confidential information.

While this strategy may work with e-mail, it doesn't prevent confidential information from being posted on the Web.

"I've never seen anyone successfully regulate what their employees post on Facebook," Sirota says. "Companies need to be vigilant, but it is very hard to prevent people from posting things if they wan to post it," he says.

For companies very concerned with keeping on top of their information, Sirota suggests hiring an outside service to monitor the Web for confidential data being posted to social networking sites.

But Facebook has found its use at an ad-hoc level within organizations, he adds. The group feature is used by company employees to organize social events.

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