Mike Elgan at Datamation writes about a social media monitoring company called Social Intelligence. Social Intelligence provides not only social media screening of potential candidates, which seems pretty common these days, but ongoing surveillance of employees. It continuously monitors employees social media behavior – including what they post when they’re not at work.

Fear Factor

Social Intelligence is using scare tactics to appeal to managers to use its service. Quoting Elgan:

What happens if one of your employees freaks out, comes to work and starts threatening coworkers with a samurai sword? You’ll be held responsible because all of the signs of such behavior were clear for all to see on public Facebook pages. That’s why you should scan every prospective hire and run continued scans on every existing employee.

I wonder if Larry Ellison would pass this test? But seriously, is it really HR’s job to monitor employees behavior outside of work to scan for signs that the employee may be dangerous? Could someone really win a lawsuit against a company which failed to adequately spy on its employees? Certainly employees behavior outside of work can be grounds for termination. Failing a drug test, for example, can lose you a job even if you weren’t using drugs on the job.

Some of the categories of behavior Social Intelligence will monitor for include “Poor Judgment,” “Gangs,” “Drugs and Drug Lingo” and “Demonstrating Potentially Violent Behavior.” Supposedly results will be human reviewed, but who gets to decide what constitutes “poor judgement”? Could you be terminated for throwing gang signs you don’t even understand?

Big Data Becomes Big Brother

Elgan is convinced, however, that in the age of big data and business analytics that this sort of data mining and pre-emptive termination is inevitable:

Following the current trend lines, very soon social networking spiders and predictive analytics engines will be working night and day scanning the Internet and using that data to predict what every employee is likely to do in the future. This capability will simply be baked right in to HR software suites.

We’ve predicted that social media monitoring will only get creepier, and it seems like we were right.

Cloud Security

Social Intelligence’s data gathering is undoubtedly creepy, but there’s an interesting security issue that something like this could address: the flow of sensitive information outside of corporate networks. Company data is flowing outside the firewall at an unprecedented rate. How could monitoring be turned into a useful security tool?

Hat tip: Bruce Schneier

Photo credit: Circo de Invierno.