Maintaining a Personal and Corporate Identity Online
Managing the boundaries, practices, policies and technology associated with a shift to Internet applications raises questions around the growing overlap between personal and corporate identity.
I create, store and transmit a lot of corporate data over
Internet services that are outside the control of my company. A large part of
this data activity happens as a result of social networking applications that
are tied specifically to me as a private Internet citizen. Managing the
boundaries, practices, policies and technology associated with my shift to
Internet applications raises questions around the growing overlap between my
personal and corporate identity.
When I first entered the work force in the 1980s the most common policy on personal use of company property consisted of a 10-minute daily limit for private phone calls and instant dismissal for using company postage to pay for personal mail. While some (usually hourly or service) employees still have personal cell phone time limits, e-mail and online bill payment have virtually eliminated personal postage use and the old policies seem anachronistic. Today, my bigger concern is company use of personal property.
I'm (one of a very small number of) Cameron Sturdevant on Facebook. I'm csturdevant on Twitter. When I first signed up for these accounts it was for business reasons. Although it wasn't mandated, but to be a technology analyst today means also using social sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. One big problem is that I have an entirely separate personal life where I would also like to be Cameron Sturdevant, and Facebook and Twitter don't have very good methods for helping me be both a professional and a civilian with the same identity. Early choices I made in associating my personal data with accounts that are primarily used for business have effectively cut me off from the full enjoyment of my private personality online.
My Lab colleague, Jason Brooks, refers to my work persona as "Fake Cameron" and my personal social networking accounts as "Real Cameron." While humorous, I consider both my professional and personal appearances on social networking sites as "real." I separate them to protect myself from potential negative impacts that could come from mixing my work and home life in the same online vat. For example, I'm careful to leave out age/weight/marital status/sexual orientation and other protected information on my professional profiles.
As careful as I am, I've been thwarted in my attempts to be a responsible employee and an available personal friend. For example, maintaining multiple Facebook accounts is a violation of the service terms. Since I signed up for Facebook for work-related reasons, I'm technically prohibited from the full enjoyment of a personal presence.
And there are still reasons for employers to be concerned about what employees control.
For example, this column was written in Google docs. I rarely use the company-provided Microsoft Office productivity suite except for the increasingly rare times when I need more sophisticated editing capabilities. For me, the anywhere, anytime access to my written work is the first, second and third most important reasons for using an online service as my typewriter. Fortunately, my work isn't regulated like health care or financial data, so I have the relative freedom to use an extremely convenient application to perform my work.
I know of employees who use online services to process their work-related e-mail, contacts and calendar information. In my own work environment I use shared Google docs to collaborate on everything from IP address assignments to editorial assignments. My access to these shared documents is tied to an e-mail account that I created for personal use. Besides the fact that I'm associating my personal account with business information, there's the question of who's making sure that my access to potentially sensitive information is controlled after I eventually leave my current position. How does an employer easily regain control of company data once it starts to live in online services?
Here's my current thinking for keeping "Fake Cameron" and "Real Cameron" in harmony. First, I created a generic e-mail account using a popular e-mail provider. I use this account to sign up and centralize my work-related social networking activities. I created a handle that is clearly work-related, avoids any silly or pejorative slang and is generic enough for me to use at any employer. Second, I recognize the need to create a firewall between my personal and private life by creating separate social networking accounts when permitted to do so. Third, I'm investigating password management tools to keep track of the increasingly large number of personal online services that I need to access throughout the day to do my job. Sxipper and a note in my iPhone are the two methods I'm currently using.
Online services are a reality. It's time for an evolution in social networking site and employment policies that support the idea that a person could legitimately lead a professional and a private life.