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How social media terrifies the privacy-conscious worker

Posting in Technology

According to a new study, more than half of adults believe that social media has broken down privacy barriers in the workplace.

In AVG Technologies' latest Digital Diaries study, Digital Work Life, 53 percent of respondents -- based on a sample size of 4,000 adults worldwide -- believe that privacy has been eroded due to the open nature of such networks. The study found that this often impacts employee privacy, especially if you get confused when it comes to ever-changing privacy settings, and due to this, some workers are choosing to leave websites including Twitter and Facebook.

One in ten said that social networks were used to have secret discussions about them by colleagues, and eleven percent have had to deal with embarrassing photos being taken of them at work events and uploaded online. (I bet you regret the Christmas 'do, right?) The most prolific photo uploaders were the Spaniards, whereas Brits also take fiendish delight in uploading pictures best deleted.

Six percent even found that social networking was involved in unwanted romantic attention -- and this number rose to one in ten of adults in the United States.

Other key findings include:

  • 82 percent of adults believe defamatory remarks posted online should be considered cyberbullying, rising to 93 percent in the United Kingdom.
  • More than half of the survey respondents admitted they would confront colleagues in person if they felt they were the victim of cyberbullying. In Germany, this rose to 65 percent. However, only eleven percent would retaliate to cyberbullying through digital communication.
  • A quarter of adults said they are not protected from cyberbullying in existing policies. Only 37 percent reported that they knew of a cyberbullying policy in the workplace.
  • Outside of work, only 16 percent of all adults believe that companies are responsible for employees' behavior online.

Average workers aren't the only ones using social media for dubious reasons. Nine percent of adults reported that a manager has used information found on social media sites against them or a colleague, and this practice is most common in the U.S. (13 percent) and Czech Republic (12 percent).

Jenny Ungless, an independent HR Consultant and life coach, commented on the findings:

"While you can't completely control what people say about you online, you can control the 'ammunition' they have against you. Being more careful about your posts on social networks or ensuring your privacy settings protect your personal information are just a few steps you can take.

Having to ward off colleagues' romantic advances online, suffer the embarrassment of unwanted personal photos seen by colleagues or have personal details from social networks used against you, are all things that adults haven’t typically had to deal with.

We often talk about bringing work home with us, yet little has been done to date to tackle our home-life now being taken into the office and the possible implications of this."

Photo Credit: d2s

— By on January 31, 2013, 8:33 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure