McAfee Labs

Social Networking, Privacy Concerns Worry Europeans

By on Jun 25, 2010

This week I’ve seen several interesting articles and posts about the effect and consequences of social networking sites within Europe. Here are a few links:
European Parliament
Dagens Nyheter
IDG Sweden

McAfee recognizes the development of social networking as a fundamental business tool as well as a personal tool. What we find particularly interesting are the increased concerns that are being raised lately within Europe.

Europeans are worried about the societal effects of social networking as well as Internet privacy issues. Some feel social networking sites are creating compulsive behavior in some individuals.

Many people spend a significant amount of time on social sites. This takes place at home and at work, as individuals of all ages are drawn to these sites. For many, accessing social sites is something they do a few times per week; but others feel a need to constantly go online, checking for feedback and new messages.

This time drain may become a concern for employers, as the productivity losses and data leakage risks will increase. Because many businesses and city governments are now also using these sites, the lines between personal and professional use are no longer clearly drawn.

Social networking sites also have the potential to be a severe distraction in schools as well as in the workplace.

Some think excessive use of social networking sites may be addictive, and there is a concern that this behavior may pose health risks, similar to compulsive gambling.

In some areas of Europe, the use of social sites is equal to or higher than the use of search engines. Furthermore, as more information is posted, the greater the risks for various breaches of privacy, such as identity theft and unintended distribution of photos and other information. Many users are not aware of the risks they potentially expose themselves or their employers to.

Whether one agrees that social networking sites pose a risk, we can all agree that social interaction via the Internet has grown significantly during the last couple of years. In some ways this form of communication has altered how we converse with each other in both professional and personal environments.

Prior to today’s many online communication tools, we interacted directly with the other party. Today, by posting information, comments, and opinions on the Internet, we indirectly also communicate our messages to many others, in addition to the intended recipients. We need to stay aware of what we post, how we post, and who can access it. Our conduct online may reflect on us both in our professional and personal roles: Our online personas are not separate from our offline personas.

In this blog we often discuss the security risks associated with various evolving threats. However, it is also important that administrators train their users well on social risks. In addition to the dangers of phishing and spamming attempts to friends, targeted attacks, and other social media worms, the distribution and leakage of information can be equally harmful to a corporation. It will be very interesting to see if other nations and cultures speak out on this topic in the days ahead.