Mobility

The not-so-cute side of emojis: Potential security, privacy, and bandwidth issues

Those adorable emojis may could lead to serious enterprise headaches. Jack Wallen makes the case for why emojis have no place in the business world.

Image: Jack Wallen

The idea for emojis was born from emoticons, which were created to make communicating certain ideas much easier on small keyboards. Now, emojis transmit more than ideas...they contain emotion, meaning, and even subtext.

Personal communication is a great place for a rousing good back and forth with tiny images. Professional communication? Not so much. Even beyond the idea of adult-level communication skills, emojis could represent a threat to security or privacy.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

"But how?" you say. On the simplest level, a company could run the risks of audits and legal action if an employee using a company device, under the right (or wrong, as it were) circumstances, transmits a questionable emoji. For instance, a Pennsylvania man was found guilty of threatening his ex-wife by using the :-P emoticon.

And now, Twitter, Facebook, and Google can use emoji to track your employees and target their devices with ads. No business wants their users to be transmitting any more data and information than necessary. And if your employees' usage of their Android and iOS devices are being tracked by Twitter, Facebook, and Google, those seemingly innocent emojis could cause problems. It's not too much of a stretch to see how this can evolve from advert targeting to device tracking, or it could even land your company in a court defending an employee's innocence.

No, I haven't donned my conspiracy theorist's hat.

Consider this: An emoji is nothing more than a string of characters that is then interpreted by your platform and transformed into a cute little picture...so the string "!@*&tU#$" could be interpreted as Cowboy With Gun.

What happens to you, or your company, when an employee winds up on the wrong end of a legal battle because of a poorly timed or unwisely transmitted Cowboy With Gun emoji? Or when those hundreds of devices you are charged with managing are inundated with targeted ads based on communications that may or may not be of a sensitive nature (read: company data). I'm guessing you'd rather not find out.

Why using emoji keyboards are a bad idea, too

A few years ago I tested an emoji keyboard. Seconds after installing that keyboard, my device came to a grinding halt. I immediately removed the emoji keyboard, and things returned to normal.

Within the past year, my wife installed an emoji keyboard only to see the same thing happen. I ran a check with AVG Antivirus and saw that emoji keyboard get flagged. She removed the keyboard, and all was well.

Emoji keyboards allow ads to be targeted — or even, possibly, pushed — to a device. Say, for instance, those targeted ads go against company policy for a BYOD device. Even though you may have the policy deployed to all company mobile devices, it could be possible for the ad to circumvent that policy. And what if the ad just happens to have been deployed by a nefarious ad server? Couple that with the possibility of an inundation of targeted ads, and you have a mobile device that, because of emoji keyboards, could cause bandwidth and security issues.

SEE: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Policy (Tech Pro Research)

How to disable emojis

If your business uses Mobile Device Management, ensure emoji use is disabled. You might have to deal with creating a fairly sizable application blacklist, but it would be worth your time. One solution you might think about using to create and deploy the MDM blacklist is Miradore.

Also see

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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