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Employers shunning MySpace, Facebook

Study finds companies that are blocking employee Web browsing are especially focused on banning social-networking sites.

Barracuda Networks

The Web may be the last bastion of uncensored speech, but things get a bit more locked down once you browse it from within the walls of your employer, according to a Barracuda Networks analysis of data contributed by thousands of its Barracuda Web Filter customers. In fact, the data shows that 50 percent of businesses using Barracuda Web Filters are blocking or Facebook.

Social networking may be hot with employees, but employers tend to discriminate between sites, preferring the more grown-up Facebook to MySpace, with 44 percent of the companies using Barracuda Web Filters currently blocking MySpace, while only 26 percent block Facebook. Nineteen percent block both.

Are employers leery of employees getting a life and socializing? Not really. It's a security thing, and not just a social-networking thing, as a separate Barracuda survey of 228 IT security professionals shows:

  • 53 percent of businesses currently restrict employee Web surfing via automated Web filtering systems.
  • 65 percent of businesses expect to enforce Web surfing restrictions in 2008, a nearly 23 percent growth from year to year.

Why restrict employee Web surfing?

  • 70 percent do so for virus or spyware prevention.
  • 52 percent restrict Web surfing due to employee productivity drain.

Companies also cite bandwidth concerns (36 percent) and liability issues (28 percent) as additional reasons to cut into employee Web surfing.

Barracuda Networks

Underlying all of this is an interesting irony: Barracuda Web Filters are Linux-based and utilize SQUID (open source) HTTP proxy as a component. In other words, companies are using free (as in freedom) software to restrict the freedom (as in ability to do silly things on MySpace and Facebook like "poke" "friends") of Web surfing.

Is this a bad thing? No. Open source is all about...openness. How it gets used is up to the person who downloads and installs the software. That's one of those rich ironies of freedom: it doesn't always get used in the way that one might like. That's the point.

It's also the way you can determine a truly open-source project from a pseudo open-source project: if it can't be forked, it's not open source.

At any rate, one thing that jumped out at me in the Barracuda data is that while a majority of companies restrict employee Web surfing, only 21 percent actively monitor that Web activity.

I consider myself a pretty benign Web user: I've never intentionally visited a porn site and, aside from my blog addiction and a proclivity to check out Arsenal news at least 3 billion times each day, I'm a pretty good steward of my time online. But I wouldn't want someone staring over my shoulder all day.

If you can't trust an employee, don't hire her. If you can trust her, don't monitor her. Block sites that are an obvious waste of time (like MySpace), but don't Big Brother your employees.