Corporate Instant Messaging Tips for Avoiding the Foley Folly

Robert McMillan of the IDG News Service put together a nice list of tips for how corporations can keep control of their instant messaging and help avoid the "Foley Folly."  The piece is slated for an upcoming print issue, but we thought you'd like to see it while the topic is top of mind.

INSTANT MESSAGING The tempest surrounding former Congressman Mark Foley’s sexually explicit instant message conversations with minors has turned into a scandal for the Republican party, while offering a warning for corporate IT groups.

The scandal underscores the fact that instant message conversations can be just as damaging as email, says Shawna Swanson, a partner with San Francisco-based law firm Fenwick & West LLP’s Employment Practices group. “The big difference between the two, frankly, is people know how to monitor email better than they know how to monitor IMs,” Swanson says. “I hear people say that here is no way to monitor IM, but that’s actually not the case.”

According to a 2005 survey by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute, workplace IM is “a recipe for legal, regulatory and security disaster.” Ten percent of employees reported sending sexual, romantic or pornographic instant messages and half of these are sent on free instant messaging software rather than company sanctioned tools, according to the survey.

The ePolicy Institute has some tips on how to rein in instant messaging:

•Assume that your employees are using instant messaging. Only 47 percent of employees using free IM tools reported that their companies knew about its use.

• Survey employees and test your network to see if employees are using IM clients. Symantec and other vendors make management tools to detect and monitor IM traffic.

•When you find IM clients on the network, don’t rush to ban them. Prohibition may trigger a revolt by employees who see it as critical to their jobs. Besides, they’ll probably just find a back door to sneak in IM.

•Set an an IM policy that reflects any regulatory compliance requirements and acceptable use rules. Make it clear that instant messages belong to the employer, not the employee.

•Make sure your IM policy is being met. IM management tools, available from vendors such as Akonix, IMlogic, and FaceTime, can help log and report on IM traffic and enforce company policy.

--Robert McMillan
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