LAS VEGAS-Should Facebook be banned from the workplace?
That question formed the center of a debate between two analysts at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2008 here April 7 before an audience of about 100 people.
Gartner analyst Nikos Drakos argued that Facebook should be banned, while Gartner's Ray Valdes defended the social network. The debate was interactive, with audience members chiming in after every point.
Drakos said enterprises should consider banning Facebook because if organizations let their employees spend time on it, they may reveal confidential company information, perhaps even revealing tips that help rivals gain competitive advantages.
Valdes countered that while proprietary information may make its way on the Web via Facebook, it is no more damaging than information revealed over the phone or via e-mail.
"Facebook does not reveal secrets; people reveal secrets," Valdes said, arguing that the medium of communication should not be punished for the actions of people.
To further illustrate his point, Valdes said he could have made a lot of money if he leveraged the information he heard on long flights about corporate secrets, details that could actually influence stock prices for publicly traded companies. Yet these corporate secret spreaders are rarely castigated.
However, an audience member noted that while Facebook has gotten better about enabling privacy, information on Facebook, whose medium is the Internet, is anything but private and not built to prevent unauthorized information sharing.
Valdes conceded this point but pointed out the myriad cases where corporate workers accidentally e-mailed sensitive documents to rivals, journalists or opponents in litigation.
Valdes cited a recent Eli Lilly case, in which the company's employees accidentally e-mailed details of the company's trial strategy to the New York Times. This blunder was the main factor in the company's decision to settle with plaintiffs to the tune of $1 billion.
Drakos then stated that Facebook is a huge drain on employee productivity because its usage is so addictive in a medium that has no worthwhile business information. This constant stream of information is a misuse of company resources, he said.
Valdes said Facebook, being such a new technology, is similar to when people began getting Web access at work years ago; people spent hours of time not doing work-based tasks to learn their way around the Web and eventually got back to business.
At this point, an audience member raised the point that companies such as Google, which provides its employees all the amenities of a home environment, actually boast significantly high productivity rates. This point boosted Valdes' argument.
However, another audience member then cut to the chase, noting that if Facebook can be managed, why would anyone ban it? Valdes said that is part of the compromising nature of his argument, but other attendees questioned whether or not Facebook could truly be managed.
So, who won this argument? Gartner analyst and debate moderator Stephen Prentiss asked whether or not Facebook should be banned before the debate and then again after the debate.
Some 68 percent of the audience of more than 100 attendees said they were against a ban in a vote taken before the debate started. However, at the conclusion of the debate, 81 percent voted against a ban.
Valdes, and Facebook, won this round. But this is a debate that will continue to rage.