Privacy in an enterprise social network.

Posted: August 11, 2011 in SocialBiz
Tags: , , ,

As I step through our Social Collaboration deployment to the enterprise an interesting argument has arisen, that of privacy for our internal network. While initially the question arose because of a request that “real photo’s” be used rather than avatars , the issue is much broader and in the social profile world can relate to  experience, location, past projects, photos, colleagues (friends) etc. In essence these all lead us to the question of how much privacy do you have at work (and have power to control)?

Let’s talk in the context of a photo however it could relate to any personally identifiable “work related” information exposed on the corporate intranet. During our early pilot some employee’s have expressed concern that their photo be available to everyone in the company. Other’s in the project team have tried to enforce a “real photo” vs a graphical representation of the person i.e. an avatar.

I started a table of arguments for and against the use of an avatar however I fast realised the primary reason against was for personal privacy. This may very well be because I am totally FOR a photo and have trouble seeing the other side, so would love to hear other’s comments.

Despite my natural bias, Im going to try and play devils advocate for each point.

Obligation to your employer

  • Most companies have core values. These could be explicitly defined by management or implicitly through culture. Regardless there needs to be common values that most, if not all, employee’s subscribe to. It’s your classic Leviathan theology of a social contract on a narrower scale. Therefore, if the company suggests that everyone should present oneself “professionally” does that include a mugshot on the company intranet. Or is it simply that they need to be be nice, speak to others respectfully and dress appropriately?
  • If core value are explicitly defined how much credence, or indeed absolute power, do they have, over an individual if they don’t inherently subscribe to them? As an example, many companies attempt to create “innovative cultures”. While there are many success stories, for some, if not most individuals, innovation is not a natural thing. They need to be excited and driven to want to innovate. Nine to fivers aren’t interested in that. So what if the core value is collaboration? Collaboration implies getting involved and talking to others in the company. For an introvert this could be a horrible experience and may shy away. If pressed, engagement will drop with the associated productivity. I’ve gone on a rant so will bottle up for another (few) posts but for the purposes of this post, how much are introverts (or any employee) obliged to upload a real picture / profile because of company values?


  • We all work for the company and our work isn’t hidden away. By definition, working for a company, means to add something too the value of the company. That cannot(and in my mind shouldn’t) go unnoticed in obscurity. However (devils advocate) for some people, just being paid their salary or commission is enough reward. They dont need to be paraded in front of the masses for the efforts. Bringing it back to the user profile, should they be forced to put past experience and/or skills on their own profile?
  • Ability for others to identify with whom they are conversing with. This comes in many forms such as a face known but never spoken to, a face seen later to whom which you have conversed with online or someone you can seek out at gatherings /while walking the office etc. There’s alot of studies that suggest diverse groups produce the best results but want about those subject matter experts that just want to do it alone? Yeah their interaction with other’s could produce a better result but alone they produce a far better result than not working for the company at all!!
  • My research on LinkedIn and Twitter pronounced an unequivocal yes you need not only a profile but also a rich profile. This was geared towards, I think, on the ability for others to associate with you. Many on LinkedIn in particular flat out refused to deal with someone with limited profile information and worse yet, no photo. But does this work in the enterprise? Someone is coming to work, been given their tasks by their managers / peers, completing it and going home. They aren’t “looking” for more work and are happy with their current work and aren’t looking for expansion. Complete contrast to those engaging on LinkedIn.
Whether or not someone should be made to upload a photo is a scratch on the surface of privacy at work. Given consumers and private citizens are fighting hard for it it’s inevitable that it’ll flow into company culture. Perhaps it’s always been there, it’s just now become more prominent due to the ubiquity of social networking.
Dynamite topic. Would love to hear your view!

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