How Facebook Mucks Up Office Life

2 May 2009

Jake Widman has written an interesting article about the impact of “oversharing” on Facebook: How Facebook mucks up office life: Managing a workforce is already a challenging job; now Facebook and other social networks raise a host of sticky new situations., ComputerWorld, 30 April 2009.

The key observation is the way social networks mix different social circles that would rarely intersect in real life, along with people’s willingness to accept friend requests from unknown or unvalidated individuals.

Separate from the social challenge is the issue of people, particularly younger Facebook users, becoming friends with people they don’t know well, or even at all. “Facebook doesn’t have our normal social mechanisms for validating someone,” Argast points out — and many users, especially people who use Facebook to network, are reluctant to turn down a friend request.

The article mentions studies that indicate both that a significant fraction (23%) of hiring managers check social networking sites on potential hires, and that the majority of Facebook users do not understand how visible their “private” information is.

The article also highlights the additional risks of applications.

A further issue is the fact Facebook applications gain access to — as the warning screen tells you — “your profile information, photos, your friends’ info, and other content that it requires to work,” whether they need it or not.

In 2007, Adrienne Porter Felt, then a computer science student at the University of Virginia and now a student at U.C. Berkeley, and David Evans, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Virginia, did a survey of the top 150 Facebook applications and found that “90.7% of applications are being given more privileges than they need” to perform their intended functions.

The researchers haven’t updated those earlier findings, but Evans says he suspects the results would be pretty similar. “If anything, the applications are getting more complex,” he says. “And there is also an emerging model for third-party advertising networks embedded in applications, which has further privacy risks.”

In summary,

Bottom line? Facebook doesn’t call for new principles, Selvas says, just smart application of the old ones. And the constant reminder that you and your employees are in public when you’re on Facebook. As Selvas sums up, “Don’t do anything on Facebook you wouldn’t do in an airport.”