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Social Networking For Business & Fear Of Data Leaks

Just how safe is your business' social software website or online community?

It's just one of those questions that we've seen users answer "oh it's perfectly safe" until something happens that is beyond their control.

While a lot of businesses have overcome their fear of vulnerability of membership and customer data while building a social website, some still have horror stories to narrate and others are still skeptical.

What most of these stories tell us is that while not all hosted social software platforms are ‘unsafe' or a ‘bad idea', the only way to have complete control over your data and guarantee users their data won't be misused is having it on your own servers.

Earlier this year, Ning, one of the leading platforms in this space was slammed by the press for changing its policy to extend their own database to include their clients databases.

An article published in Charting Stocks stated:

Clients of Ning are outraged [Link disabled by Ning] over a  decision that Ning made public last week. The software maker sent out an email to all of its clients, those who have created a social network on Ning, stating that they would email all members of all websites who use the Ning software to promote the newly designed Ning.com.


"Please do not send the email to my members. I pay you not to advertise on my site and I don't think you should target my members directly," says one Ning network creator and paying customer. Ning charges network creators to keep all Ning promotional links off their site. Some members have been paying this fee for years and so are even more upset at the direct email marketing campaign. Why pay the fee?

Data leakage and risk of misuse of data is one of the first security risks associated with social websites for businesses ... and right so, since the user base can easily be compared to a company's CRM system or customer database. While there are some clear advantages to SaaS social platforms, if you need complete control over your customer data, hosting your own social website is the only option. As much as we'd like to believe that software service providers are the only sources of data leakage, that isn't true.

According to a survey conducted by security provider Sophos, "63% of Businesses Fear That Social Networking Endangers their Corporate Security"  -- and the social networks they are referring to are the popular ones such as Facebook or MySpace, which employees often end up divulging a lot of information on. Although the pet peeve for businesses, in this matter, is that their employees are spending too much productive time on these sites -- the risk of data leaking on to these sites through employees and then the later possible misuse of this information is always a risk.

The article says:

According to Sophos, around 40% to 50% of all businesses don't control access to Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, while a slightly larger group of enterprises allow their users to use the more business-oriented LinkedIn. Those who control access cite lost productivity as the main reason more clamping down on social network usage at work, while about 12% to 17% cite a fear of malware and data leakage.

While a complete ban on usage of social networks may not always work, (employees can still go home and use them there) to prevent leak of work related information on these sites, it's good to have a clear policy on the use of various social networks that is agreed upon and understood by employees and outlines the need to keep business and work related information on the business website (assuming they have been provided with a social software enabled website).

Social networking, like other technology, comes with its share of security concerns ... but, it's here to stay and the best we can do is make decisions that keep our data safe.

Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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