Tech Law: How much do you Like your colleagues?
by Paul Jacobson (@pauljacobson) Facebook is clearly the dominant social network. That much has been obvious for some time now but could a version of Facebook become your preferred business network? Dubbed “Facebook at Work”, the social giant’s latest foray into the enterprise space is an interesting approach.
One question you may ask is why Facebook is developing a business collaboration version of its popular social platform? The short answer is that Facebook wants to secure your undivided attention (well, in as much as that is possible). According to Quartz Magazine:
“Chartbeat, which measures real-time traffic for many of the most popular websites, provides another look at people’s Facebook habits. As this chart illustrates, Facebook desktop traffic peaks during the workday, while mobile traffic rises in the evening.”
Legitimate and compelling
If Facebook can give its business users a legitimate and compelling reason to use it during the day (even if it is a distinct service loosely connected to the social platform), Facebook will have even more of your attention and, quite possibly, expand its social user base even further in the process. You are probably familiar with the term “mindshare”? This is a move which, if successful, is almost guaranteed to secure a dominant mindshare that spans the work/personal divide.
For now, though, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The first thing to bear in mind about Facebook at Work is that we don’t know a lot about it. It is currently in a closed and fairly small testing phase, and Facebook hasn’t shared much about the service’s features and longer-term plans. What we do know is pretty interesting, though. The basic idea is to take the service we know and use daily and adapt it for enterprise collaboration. According to the Wall Street Journal:
“Facebook At Work looks and feels similar to Facebook’s familiar social network service, with a few key differences. There are no advertisements and the company doesn’t track users or hold their data.
“Facebook says a key feature of the app is Groups, which the company believes could replace email lists that appear never-ending and seem to grow larger with time.”
Appealing or not
Whether this appeals to you or not depends largely upon your feelings about Facebook (not for work). If you are an ardent fan, being able to collaborate within a Facebook environment is pretty close to idyllic. Although your work and personal accounts will be separate, you will still have a somewhat coherent identity in the Facebook ecosystem (unlike in the Google ecosystem, where your identity is split across multiple Google accounts if you have, say, a personal account and a work account). According to the Facebook Help Center:
“Your work account is only visible to people at your company and is separate from your personal account. From your work account, you can still access things that are shared publicly on Facebook.
“When you set up your work account, you’ll be able to connect it to your personal account. This lets you switch between the 2 accounts while using the same username and password for both. Your username and password aren’t shared with your employer.”
However, it is easy to adopt what will likely be a very familiar interface and lose sight of some of the likely challenges. Perhaps the most prominent one is how much sensitive corporate data Facebook will have access to and process, with the correlative concern being the risk of that corporate data being misused or even mistakenly exposed to people who shouldn’t have access to it?
One of the common responses to Facebook privacy controversies is that a person’s typical Facebook user data isn’t especially sensitive and, if it is exposed to an unintended audience, the consequences are probably not likely to be severe. That won’t be the case with corporate data, which could include discussions about upcoming projects; sensitive pricing models; and product development. In that case, the consequences of data falling into the wrong hands could be catastrophic.
Again, according to the Wall Street Journal:
“Facebook, however, could face trust issues from chief information officers wary of allowing a company that specializes in gathering personal data to tap into sensitive corporate conversations.
“A Facebook spokeswoman said Facebook will gather no data on corporate users and the actions of Facebok At Work users will not change their usual Facebook profiles.”
In one respect, this is a technical challenge which Facebook’s engineers could, almost certainly, meet through robust data safeguards. Facebook also wouldn’t be the first internet company to become a custodian of this sort of sensitive data, either. Companies entrust their data to various cloud service providers which include Amazon (through its Amazon Web Services); Google (Apps for Work); Salesforce; and even new providers such as Slack. The next biggest problem is perception.
Facebook is perceived as a personal social network with more than a few privacy controversies under its belt. It features strongly in more than 1.4bn people’s lives but it is still the place where people share family photos, write updates about their kids, keep track of birthdays and play farming games.
Could Facebook change that dominant perception and become known as a serious business productivity company, too, that is trusted with business data?
Solving the technical challenge of securing valuable business data is one thing but Facebook will have to persuade corporate clients that it will handle that data responsibly; regulators that it will process that data in compliance with a variety of data protection laws; and users that Facebook can be a credible work collaboration platform, too — and not just the place they go to Like photos of other people’s kids.
South African-born Paul Jacobson (@pauljacobson) is a content marketing specialist and reformed internet lawyer, now based in Israel. He has a passion for the social web, internet trends, digital marketing and related themes such as online reputation management and privacy. He contributes the regular “Tech Law” column focusing on issues in the digital marketing space to MarkLives.com. CC BY-SA 2.5
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