Connecting (your) dots
Social Sentry has at least one weakness you should know about: It needs to make an initial link between an employee and a social networking handle. That happens when the employee posts from work. If you've never posted on the network, Social Sentry can't identify you.
However, a motivated employer could use other tools to discover your social networking persona. Radian6, for example, appears to be gaining popularity with Web-savvy companies. It trolls social networking sites looking for references to products, brand names, and the like. It wouldn't be difficult for a nosy employer to combine Radian6 or a similar tool and discover an employee's private social networking activities.
To be fair, Teneros, whose main business is email continuity and the like, sees it differently. "We totally understand that people have concerns about privacy," says Christina Del Villar, a company spokeswoman. "The goal isn't to track everything employees are saying. [Social Sentry] is looking for specific information." (Here's a PDF file on how Teneros describes its product.)
Speaking hypothetically, Del Villar gave the example of Apple. In the period before the launch of the iPad, the company thought it important to keep the name of the product a secret. If it had been using Social Sentry, it could have searched on employee posts using the term "iPad" as a filter. Or if financial results were due to be released, a company could filter on "earnings per share" or "cash flow" to protect information that would, in fact, be illegal to release early.
Illegal or merely creepy?
I suspect that the kind of snooping enabled by Social Sentry is not illegal. Once you post something on the Internet, it is, by definition, public information. You can't expect it to be private, and you can be held liable for certain things that you say on the Web.
Sadly, a lot of young people have learned the hard way that posting suggestive photos or comments can get them in trouble very quickly. Once something is online, you can't take it back, even if it's deleted from the original source.
This blog is called "Tech's Bottom Line" for a reason. The market drives innovation, and I have great respect for the venture capitalists that have done so much to launch exciting new companies. Do they do it for the money? Of course, and there's nothing wrong with that. But I was disturbed, if not surprised, when I asked five high-powered venture capital guys on a Demo panel if they thought Social Sentry represented a good business opportunity. All said yes, and none expressed serious reservations about privacy.
Social Sentry is creepy -- and its potential business success cast a shadow over my otherwise energizing two days at Demo.