Anti-social network analysis

People have expressed plenty of paranoia about social network analysis techniques that exploit existing corporate data stores.  So, it shouldn't be surprising to see reports of companies that are selling their tools to snoop on their employees.  Patrick Lambe gives us the reference, Shhhh... the IP Addresses Have Ears:

Well it had to happen. Social network analysis in organisations has long been promoted as a way of spotting opportunities for improving collaboration and knowledge flows. Network mapping software pioneer Valdis Krebs has just celebrated his twentieth birthday in the business.

Now, via Bill Ives, a nasty twist on social (or organisational) network analysis that brings us to the dark side of the force.

The corporate data stores are owned by the corporation.  So, they can decide to do anything they wish with their data.  We already know that most large companies monitor what comes across their internet.  And they block access to a variety of online services.  It's not too much of a stretch to think they might want to use SNA-like analyses for monitoring their employees.

The thing is that SNA is an analysis of the flow of trust across the network.  This kind of analysis, if abused, is going to kill off the flow of trust.   If email becomes an untrustworthy communication mechanism, then any SNA based on that data cannot be used to get a true X-Ray of the organization.

5 Comment(s)

Valdis said:

Yeah companies do own their data streams and they can mine it to their heart's content as long as they don't break the law.

I had a refreshing client meeting yesterday. They said they looked at many "network mining" products like Visible Path, Tacit Mail, Spoke, etc. They told me "I don't want some system to guess, I'll tell you my contacts" Their employees want to manage/monitor/mold their own networks.

So maybe the pendulum is starting to swing back?

I agree with Valdis - employees want to manage/monitor/mold their own networks, and they appreciate the control and privacy that this offers. Visible Path recently introduced a free service that helps people manage their individual network and allows them to freely connect or disconnect from their corporate network. Trust is critical in these networks, and giving people in the network the privacy and control they need is key to building a successful one.

I'm a little unclear on what is meant when a company says "I don't want some system to guess, I'll tell you my contacts." Valdis, can you clarify?

Valdis said:

Antony, I did not interrogate the person on that statement, but based on the context of of the conversation -- they had looked at various relationship mining products and they came to the concluson that these products "guessed" the relationships in the organization. For their particlular need that is not what they felt they wanted.

Alan said:

The Metron EBA product automates the capture of the inputs for social network analysis. Where's the dark side of that? This enables baselining a network and observing how business processes and organizational changes affect it, without manual data capture each time. The network data, either manually gathered or caputred with Metron, can be used for negative purposes.

SNA is very useful for finding insider threats and other soft crimes like fraud. Is this a bad use of SNA?

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

Alan- Thanks for joining this conversation. Interesting that the original article on PC World doesn't sound nearly as dire as the commentary it prompted. If Metron EBA is only about highlighting key nodes in network (or missing nodes), then I have no difficulty with the product.

The concern is in using SNA tools combined with analyses that look for "anomolous behavior" that concerns me and the others who have commented.

My take is that TRUST is a big aspect of what passes across social networks. When companies start mining the TRUST data to look for bad actors, those channels very quickly start to lose their ability to convey trust. The channels become untrustworthy.

On the other hand, companies have to balance the implicit trust they place in their employees by dint of paying them a salary with the risk that someone might do something against the company.

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