How to Avoid Social Media Espionage

Nearly 1500 people have a window inside my daily actions and thoughts by subscribing to my feed and following me on Twitter. Over a thousand can see updates on what I do through Facebook. There are Flickr photos from the events that I head to and I publish the cities that I will be travelling to on Dopplr. In a social media universe, living your life a bit in the open seems a bit unavoidable if you are really going to take advantage of all the social media tools you are signed up for.

Along with this openness, however, comes the danger of publishing too much information too publicly and unwittingly leading to the rise of social media espionage … the act of obtaining information published on social networks or online presumed to be secret or confidential and using it for personal or business gain. Here’s a step by step fictional example:

  1. Entrepreneur and business owner tweets about heading to a meeting on the west coast from his home in Orlando with a friend (known to be his lawyer)
  2. The lawyer updates Facebook independently about heading to a client meeting in Redmond, Washington
  3. A business executive at Microsoft recently quoted in the media about having some "serious talks" with several companies in a certain type of business similar to what the entrepreneur does.
  4. An engineer at Microsoft blogs about his efforts and cites a really innovative company out of Orlando

In four small updates from unrelated people, a smart social media surfer could get a very direct sense of a deal about to happen and some inside information unintended to be shared. It is only a matter of time before Social Media Espionage becomes a concern that some businesses will need to have a preemptive strategy to fight against. To give you a head start, here are three tips for making sure your company doesn’t become the victim of this type of cyber-spying …

  1. Get employees smarter about what kind of information they publish, how they share it and how much detail they offer.
  2. Teach more selective friending to employees to avoid the situation of employees giving unknown friends, followers or contacts access to their profile information and updates.
  3. Monitor actively to see who is commenting from your company, what they are saying and whether you may have a potential issue to address before it becomes a major problem.

Social Media Espionage shouldn’t be a reason to keep you from using social media or encouraging your employees to use it. But it will require some smart thinking to prepare for it and make sure you don’t unwittingly become a target.

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