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Friday, December 21, 2007

Twitter is dangerous

Twitter is rapidly becoming a serious threat to corporate information protection. The program’s great strength — many-to-many messaging — becomes its great weakness in this context.

Imagine this scenario: 20 people are in a confidential meeting, one of them using Twitter. This attendee broadcasts an off-hand “tweet” (Twitter comment) to his or her “followers” (Twitter friends). With traditional instant messaging, that message would be received by perhaps one or two others. With Twitter, that comment may be seen by 10, 100, 1000, or more followers.

Why it matters? Twitter has the power to turn groups of innocent bystanders into instant analysts. Even seemingly innocuous comments, when put before a large group of people, can be analyzed more rapidly, and in more depth, than you might expect. This can easily cause ranges of unintended, highly negative, consequences.

If you’re running corporate IT, what should you do? You’ve got a few choices:

  1. Pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Not being one to advocate head-in-sand methods, I can’t recommend this approach.
  2. Block, or monitor, Twitter, as you might do with traditional instant messaging programs, such as Yahoo or AIM. It’s a tried and true method - not the best, but it works.
  3. Acknowledge the inevitable, and establish clear information sharing policies and guidelines. In the long run users, like water, will seek their own level. In other words, users will eventually adopt the tools they want, whether you want them to or not. The wise among us will recognize this certainty.

The solution: be prepared to strongly enforce information-sharing policies. If confidential information is being shared, even innocently, question the judgment of the sharer.

By the way, if you think Twitter isn’t mainstream enough to matter, think again. It’s currently got almost 700,000 users, many of them influential early adopters. Twitter isn’t going away, and like all tools, it can be used for both good and evil. Balancing Twitter’s dangers and benefits may not be easy, but you’d better start thinking about it today.


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