May 31, 2012, 9:46 AM — Bad news for those of us who thought it was outrageous that many employers demand that current or prospective employees hand over their Facebook passwords or risk being fired: During the next three years that intrusion, or others very much like it, will be happening a lot more often and will have more serious consequences for employees, according to a report released Tuesday by Gartner, Inc.
The excuse isn't just the need to vet a prospective employee by eavesdropping on the conversations of his or her friends.
The primary reason is to monitor the Internet activity of employees more closely to identify potential sources of data leaks or gaps in security, both of which social networks offer copious supplies.
The difference between reputation management and invasion of privacy
Plenty of companies keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter to make sure no one's slandering them. Only about 10 percent are monitoring either the social networks or activity of end users so they know when some deep dark secret has been posted as part of some employee bragging or grousing about their workloads or lot in life.
The practice of demanding passwords will "gradually fade," according to a statement from Andrew Walls, research VP at Gartner.
Instead, employers will avoid the outrage over direct invasions of privacy such as requiring that employees allow a supervisor to read private Facebook content over their shoulders by searching Facebook directly.
"Employers will continue to pursue greater visibility of social media conversations held by employees, customers and the general public when the topics are of interest to the corporation," in the polite consultantspeak from Andrew Wall.
That means direct snooping using corporate social network accounts and targeted searches for content from both employees and their friends, as well as for markers indicating posted content is data that should never have left the data center.
External security firms are already starting to offer more in-depth monitoring than PR companies and brand-management divisions handle as part of their effort to manage a company's reputation.