Social Enterprise

IT blocks users from social networking in 71% of organizations

The American Management Association has estimated that about half of all U.S. employers have policies restricting workers from visiting social networking sites. A new TechRepublic poll conducted during the first half of July indicates that the number is even higher.

The American Management Association has estimated that about half of all U.S. employers have policies restricting workers from visiting social networking sites. A new TechRepublic poll conducted during the first half of July indicates that the number is even higher, as 71% of respondents said that their companies were blocking social networking sites.

Since the TechRepublic audience consists primarily of IT professionals, this poll reflect mostly enterprises and SMBs large enough to hire an IT specialist.

This issue is becoming a growing source of tension between IT and users, especially new college grads who are entering the workplace and expecting to use sites like Facebook to network and connect with people, but are being blocked. The Associated Press shed light on this issue in its recent piece Young workers push employers for wider Web access.

Also, a policy that is too stringent can actually inhibit users from doing their jobs, including IT workers. TechRepublic member Juanita Marquez explained how her company's policy has caused her problems:

All but LinkedIn are blocked - and that is only allowed because the company owners use it. The blocking at my company is so draconian in order to keep the assistants from surfing, playing games, reading blogs, streaming videos or music ... that I have difficulty finding job-related, pertinent IT information on blogs for fixes I need ... In one case, I'd posted some technical humor to our IT newsletter only to find the next month that the site for the article had been blocked! And then there was the time I was completing an IT survey and all went well until the final page, which was blocked.

Some companies have different standards for different classes of employees. TechRepublic member david.valdez reported, "Social networking (myspace, facebook, etc.) is blocked generally, but then there is the class of employee (owner, GM, IT) where we only bock adults sites, hate sites, and gambling, and not always the latter, even. I've tried to convince management that MBWA (management by walking around) is far better and more useful than tech, but that's a whole different discussion."

TechRepublic member egermain argued that the rationale of blocking social networking to boost employee productivity is flawed. "People do not suddenly become more productive when they lose access to a social networking site," he wrote. "Employees wasting time online is the fruit of the issue, not the problem itself. An unmotivated employee will find another way to waste time. Security is a good reason to use controls. Productivity management is not."

Part of the answer might be smarter software. Companies such as Palo Alto Networks are now making firewalls and filtering appliances that give IT much more granular control. For example, a company can allow users to go to Facebook or Flickr but prevent them from uploading files, in order to protect company data.

To read more of the comments and responses to this issue from TechRepublic members, go to the discussion thread from the original poll.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

14 comments
Bizzo
Bizzo

A while ago now our company started using Websense to block various things. Gaming sites (games), YouTube (streaming media), PhotoBucket/imageshack etc (media sharing) etc. All streaming media is blocked, all file sharing is blocked, all game sites are blocked, all advertising is blocked. Many areas of news sites are blocked as they now have videos of news stories. It doesn't stop me from doing my job, so I can't complain. If I need to look at one of those sites, I do it at home. They used to block Facebook, but that's been unblocked now, as I think the "executives" like to use it! ;)

smadzinga
smadzinga

i am more for the granular option to managing access level on the web. i prefer that employees generally have access to the web then monitor the abuse. however if a company does not have the financial resources to monitor adequately then its probably safer to remove access completely

Scotty Bones
Scotty Bones

This again? WOW! I'll go out on a limb here and say that for %99.9 of employees, access to these sites is NOT a requirement for their job. As I have stated before; work is for work, it's not play time. Employees might find other ways to waste time, but you have to start somewhere and set solid boundaries. Just because you can not stop everything, does not mean that you should just throw up your hands and say "fine, anything goes". For those organizations that do employ this type web presence, only personnel who are authorized to make statements on behalf of the company should be permitted to have access. Everyone else should be blocked. There should really not be any use for these sites in IT. If your using nit-twit or facey-space to look up solutions to technical issues, there is something wrong. There are far many more reputable sites for such things. That seems like a sad excuse to use on technology ignorant managers, to gain access to a toy you should not be playing with at work. EDIT: As an aside. If a company wants to throw a couple of computers in the break room (as long as they are on a separate VLAN thats completely fire-walled from the rest of the network) so that they can play while on break, thats fine. The time clock has stopped and there not being paid at that point. Access from their workstations should not be allowed, PERIOD.

AttackComputerWhiz
AttackComputerWhiz

Our organization uses it but has no clue as to how to set the filters. As a result, if one needs an updated driver for a piece of equipment, the odds are good that it will be blocked because it is an executable or a "zip" file. IT has to sneak around the block to get the needed files by either downloading the driver at home or going to the nearest WiFi hotspot to get it. The poorly executed filter also blocks many of our vendor sites, so anyone needing access to those sites has to petition for them to be added to the "safe" list--a process that could take weeks because it is not considered "important". We also maintain official presenses on both Facebook and YouTube. Unfortunately, both those sites are blocked on our internal network. I guess they completely missed the irony when they decided to keep us out of our own official sites.

sbarnett
sbarnett

Could not have said it better.

registration999
registration999

because I would have to maintain it. Periodically I Wikipedia for the latest social network sites and block them as they show up on the scene.

jayflex
jayflex

We implemented a filtering solution 3 years ago after one employee was spending the vast majority of the work day on MySpace. She was even building pages for her friends while at work and used a “panic button” anytime someone would pass her desk. After auditing her account I discovered she was spending as little as 30 minutes a day on actual work. Although the web filtering didn’t make her a better employee it did result in her getting more work done. I disagree with the article that web filtering doesn’t increase productivity at all. Even good employees can get caught up spending some extra time on social websites if they are made available. It won’t change anyone’s work ethic but it does indeed help productivity. Our web filtering implementation had its share of complaints and some valid points against it from employees. As a compromise we added a computer in the break room that isn’t on our local LAN and has no filtering at all. Employees have a means of checking their personal web mail and can go to social sites on their breaks. Not only has web filtering at our gateway helped productivity it has all but eliminated malware and viruses on our network.

gbb0330
gbb0330

I block a lot of categories, including social networks because if i leave it open our 2 T1s will get congested and a few days later everybody will be infested with spyware. Majority of my users were listening to web radio all the time, some of them were also watching TV shows on their computers. they hated me for a while - i told them that they are welcome to bring their stereo and their TV to work, I don't mind - as long as they are not plugged into my network.

Wild Card
Wild Card

We give access based on employee level. Pretty much, the higher the salary the more access they get. There was a little friction when I started the blocking but they got over it. I have a great open door policy when it comes to websites. If they find something is blocked, they need only let me know the site and how it pertains to their job and I will be happy to unblock it. We do have one user that was particularly angry when we blocked MySpace, Facebook etc. She called me and said that she "needed" access to those sites and what was she supposed to do all day without them. During the rant I got called a Nazi at least twice. She has since got an iPhone and Facebooks with that. (Not on our network, for we have no wireless). I now monitor where she goes and block anything not related for work. It's like a game of cat and mouse. Moral of the story: Don't push the issue.

b4real
b4real

Some people by job description get access to these sites. Knowledge worker vs. task worker.

Jeff7181
Jeff7181

So far just about everything is unfiltered. I've been told we're getting a new corporate proxy and they're going to start blocking more extreme sites... I assume things like 4chan.org. All social network sites are available though, especially Facebook as the company I work for has an official presence on Facebook.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

No one has asked me for access to any social site at my location (manufacturing plant, 225 computers, appx. 300 users). We can access LinkedIn, but I think that's it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Websense is a blight ... Our organization uses it but has no clue as to how to set the filters." Then Websense isn't a blight; a poor implementation and an ignorant support staff are blights.