I thought Scott McNealy was over the top when he gave privacy a metaphorical middle finger in 1999, saying, "Get over it. You have zero privacy anyway." Now I'm thinking the former CEO of Sun Microsystems was simply ahead of his time.
I just returned from Demo Spring 2010, a technology forum for hot young startups that usually reminds me of why I love covering our industry. But Social Sentry, a new product shown at Demo by a company called Teneros, is frightening and represents a threat to privacy and the open use of social networking. The scary application reminded me that technology does have a dark side.
If it works as advertised, Social Sentry will allow employers to track the use of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and many other social networking sites by their employees -- even when they post from the so-called privacy of their homes or mobile devices. What's more, the software can make a link between different accounts and different user names. So if I tweet under the name InfoBill and have different handles on LinkedIn and Facebook, Social Sentry will eventually identify me on all three.
It's one thing to monitor communications from within the corporate network; that's settled law and employees do not have what attorneys call "a reasonable expectation of privacy" when they use company equipment at work. (However, companies don't necessarily have the right to monitor messages you send from work from your personal email account via Webmail.) And employers are rightly concerned about the leaking of corporate secrets such as financial results during a quiet period or the content of personnel files.
But just because someone might commit a breach of corporate security, employers have no more moral right to snoop than the police have to kick down your door without a warrant because you might commit a crime in the future.