Who’s Mining Your Enterprise Collaboration Data?

imgresI’m not sure exactly what triggered my latest bout of insomnia two nights ago.  You can pretty much pick a card from the deck and find a reason.  So, at 3:15 am, I did what any sleep expert will tell you.  I picked up my iPad to catch up on my reading.  Because nothing says “soothing lullaby” like an irradiating screen burning your retina from six inches away.

As my head began to clear a bit at 3:25, I came across this post from Dan Brown.  He did to Facebook what many of us want to do but just can’t seem to pull the trigger, despite Sheryl Sandberg’s latest assertion.  If you are on Facebook (the 6 billion slackers that haven’t felt the rush yet can disregard), you need to read Dan’s post!

I did, several times.  After finally closing my tablet, I thought I could squeeze out another 45 minutes or so of sleep.  But, Dan’s post kept swirling in my head.  Then, I had a thought that scared the hell out of me.  Sleep was done for the night.  Here’s why.

It’s year-end prediction time all over this great big media universe we live in.  Everyone’s taking their turn putting on the Carnac get-up.  One of the most prolific predictions in the social business galaxy is that social business, enterprise collaboration, E2.0, whatever you want to call it, will accelerate in 2014 and will start to become ubiquitous in enterprise operations, strategies and business models across a multitude of industries.  Enterprise collaboration and the technologies that enable these practices will start to become the norm.  Corporate culture will shift en mass from the idea that “he with the knowledge wins” to “he who shares his knowledge and builds collaborative relationships will win”.   And, I’m all for it.  There’s no “I” in team.  Nor is there one in my name.  I am an over-the-top, open collaborator.  And have been forever.

But, in order for this enterprise collaboration to really work, for people to find and share with others in the organization through which they can create mutual value for themselves and the business, by definition, people will have to form bonds.  They will have to find some common ground upon which to forge these collaborative relationships.  In the course of this new enterprise Dating Game, people are going to share, and want others to share with them, information about themselves.  In this social media-driven world, we call it “authenticity” and “transparency”.  But, its also basic human nature.

So, what happens when the Monday morning water cooler chatter ends up in the new stream of the company’s collaboration platform?

A typical post that is already a reality might look something like this.

“Hey Bill, I’ve posted a revision of that design here for you and your team to review for your presentation”

“Thanks!  BTW, I had a great time at the Packers game yesterday.  Thanks for the tickets!”

Fairly innocuous.  Right?

Then, a couple of days later, Bill comes back from lunch and checks his news feed again.  The first post he sees looks something like this.

Sponsored Link

Get the latest NIKE NLF gear from The Packers and support Green Bay in their charge to another Super Bowl”








Ok, that would never happen.  The Packers stink this year.  But, here’s the point.

As Dan Brown articulated, in Facebook’s eye’s, you are the product.  You are there to be sold.  Everything you do, either with your explicit permission, or implicitly because they have crafty attorneys that write privacy statements that you can’t understand and so consent to blindly, is mined, packaged and sold as data to marketers who use that data to hawk their wares to you.  In case you hadn’t noticed, your Facebook news feed is being overrun by sponsored posts and targeted ads.

So, what’s to stop your employer from doing the same?  Yes, I know.  Just like email or any other company-owned platform, whatever you say becomes the property of the enterprise.  But, this is different.  Email is email.  And while I’ve seen way too many people torpedo their careers by hitting “reply all” when sending a rant about their boss, a selfie showing too much flesh or other such stupidity, this is different.  As, organizations become more virtual and digital collaboration platforms become the default methods for all communications (if we are to believe the prognosticators), much much more will be shared across these platforms than would ever have been shared via email.

Facebook uses all this member data for one reason.  To make money.  While not even Walmart has a billion employees, some of the most progressive organizations in the adoption of enterprise collaboration are huge, global enterprises with several hundred thousand employees.  Not a bad data set for a marketer, if you ask me.

What happens when one of those smart brands approaches said progressive company and offers a lucrative revenue stream in exchange for access to it’s collaboration platform data and the ability to use that platform to pitch its products to all 400,000 employees.  What if ten brands do it?  One hundred?  One thousand?  This is potentially a temptation too strong for company leadership to resist.  Where does it stop?  The NSA is already there.  Credit agencies? Banks? Insurance companies?  Lifestyle is a significant variable in health insurance premium calculations.  What if an employer’s insurer offers discounts on group premiums in exchange for access to this data?

The past several years have seen employers spend countless monetary and human capital resources crafting social media guidelines that their workers need to follow as a condition of employment.  The focus of these guidelines for the most part has been to protect the company.  What about protecting employees’ privacy?  It’s not reasonable for organizations to incentivize, and even in some cases require employees to engage on these digital platforms and then provide them no reasonable protection from having what may seem mundane information used as input into some targeting or segmentation algorithm.

My goal in writing this ridiculously long post (sorry about that) is that someone reading this post can point me to advocacy work already been done in this area.  Or, if not, to raise awareness that this is a real and present issue that needs thoughtful dialog and consideration.  Let’s hope the dialog happens before unsuspecting employees find out the hard way.  Like Bill.


  1. Great points and now even more reasons for sleepless nights pondering “what if.” Awesome.

    • It does raise all sorts of other issues, Spencer. The NSA and other organizations can use the hammer incentive to get organizations to submit data. But, if there is potential monetary gain available, I wonder who would take the offer. With FB, your participation is voluntary and, while most of us cant understand them, they do offer and require acceptance of Ts&Cs from members. The question is will employers develop and offer the same Ts&Cs and allow employees to manage their privacy settings on collaboration platforms. I figure some form of that is inevitable.

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