by Curt Finch

The Dark Side of Social Awareness

Apr 06, 20124 mins
Consumer ElectronicsCybercrimeFacebook

A few weeks ago I published a post that focused on a growing trend in social media: the social awareness app. In a nutshell, these apps use a combination of geo-location and social data to show you people who are around your physical location with whom you can connect. In that post, I proposed that the apps could have positive business applications if they are used correctly. As we all know, there will always be those who take a perfectly legitimate idea and twist it for wrongdoing. An example of this is “Girls Around Me”, an app that was recently deleted from Apple’s App Store. The app allowed the user to view women around them via a combination of Foursquare and Facebook data without their consent.

However, I still stand by my claim that social awareness apps can be beneficial for business purposes. That being said, it is very important to understand that, now more than ever, there are some key considerations you should make when using personal social media in a business environment.

First, privacy is a myth. Many people have seen the viral Facebook post where an employee bashes her boss and, because she had friended him earlier but forgot about it, he read the post and fired her. Because of the perceived separation between our personal and professional lives, many employees do not connect with co-workers or bosses on social media. That doesn’t necessarily matter anymore. While “Girls Around Me” faced harsh criticism and was removed from the App Store due to its high creep factor – not to mention it was essentially a form of social stalking – there is no reason to believe that new apps won’t be developed that combine network data. It could be similar to “Girls Around Me”, combining geo-location data with popular network data, or it could amalgamate other networks. The point is that work conversations are easier and easier to find out, whether by nosy higher-ups or business competitors.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, you should assume all information you put online is eternal and easily accessible. The truth is, the only thing that really limits access to data is privacy settings. However, when you post information through a social networking service, the number of ways the data can be leaked from even the most locked down of profiles is staggering. Further, because so many apps now connect with popular services such as Facebook and Twitter, privacy has become even less secure. Many of these apps require that users let them access personal data and even post as them to Facebook.

Now, that’s not to say that apps requesting these permissions are malicious; most of the time they simply post fun updates or check-in information. However, each app provides a potential backdoor into profile information. Social connectivity means that data can be rapidly proliferated to LOTS of people. This can be both a good and a bad thing. While many people use circles, groups, etc. to change who they broadcast statuses and information to, it is still wise to make sure that you are comfortable with anyone being able to see anything you put online. If someone wants to see what you are posting on your social networks, odds are they can. If you are posting negative comments about your employer, or sensitive information that you would otherwise want to keep private, be aware that this new wave of tools could make it nearly impossible to maintain a discrete social conversation.

The bottom line – use common sense. If you don’t want someone to see the information, don’t put it out there.

I want to hear some specific examples you’ve seen of this, either by you or others. Tell me about them!