The phenomenon of the interaction of our professional and social lives is a growing trend. For example, using the same apps personally and professionally can have serious consequences, says André Lameiras from the global digital security company's team ESET.
So, falling victim to a WhatsApp phishing scam can lead us to download malware that steals both our personal and business messages. Similarly, scammers using dating apps may take advantage of someone's desire to network in order to obtain information about a business.
That's it for home. But even in an office environment, sharing information online that's meant for friends but can be accessed by coworkers — like photos on Facebook or a presence on mobile apps like Grindr or Happn — can end up to unwanted attention or used for tracking; doxing or professional benefit.
Really, how did it all start?
Since the "social networking" sites appeared on the Internet with the Web 2.0 wave, around 2004, social networks began to mimic the interactions of everyday life: lists of friends with whom we could share photos, thoughts, and other content. But while in real life you might meet one group of friends one day and another the next, in social networks these groups were encouraged to interact.
Suddenly, it became acceptable for coworkers to send friend requests, and very quickly, it became awkward not to accept them. Google tried to solve this problem by launching Google+, a social network that would separate the people you connect with into different groups, just like in real life. But the idea it was not very successful.
Meanwhile, the Internet got so used to Facebook that, by 2015, the platform had reach 1,44 billion users and acquired Instagram and WhatsApp. It quickly became the “new normal” for co-workers to text each other about work during work hours as well as during non-work hours, connecting workers in a way that hadn't existed before.
And while this could be positive—for example, enhancing corporate culture— workers soon began to discuss the "right to disconnect" – after all, no one wanted to receive work messages at lunchtime or share vacation photos with their bosses. Similarly, in the office, managers did not want employees to waste time with social interactions. But it was now too late.
Work enters our social life for good
Running a successful business may require an “always on” status, but that includes more than just sitting in front of your computer in the office. It is clear that our work is no longer limited there. Our work is in our pockets, and on our phones. This collection of data, data processing and creation tools (including the camera) and communication tools, All in One, is a big change in the way we organize our lives. Every proper app developer knows this.
Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging service with over 700 million active users worldwide and with apps for all devices, is now turning into a workplace for mobile phones. The application allows the creation of groups and channels (like in Slack or Teams), sharing files up to 4GB and folders that prompt users to use their existing accounts to create a dedicated space just for workflow – yes, yes somewhere in between family chats and gaming conversations. Unless disabled, Telegram sends users regular work notifications, even during vacations.
At the same time, there are many other messaging applications that are reused for business purposes and are used by several million people. Quaintly, even dating apps are used for professional networking, finding new clients, recruiting and job hunting. While its main focus is dating, the Bumble also offers the Bizz feature which facilitates meetings between professionals.
Risks for workers and businesses when the boundaries between work and personal life blur
Just recently, Meta imposed disciplinary sanctions or dismissed more than twenty employees for allegedly abusing internal systems to gain access to user accounts, in some cases in exchange for thousands of dollars.
While this may not be a widespread problem, there's no guarantee that this isn't happening to other companies as well. And even though the target may be a personal account, business data exchanged using that account is the icing on the cake when it gets into the hands of criminals.
As we experience changes in our culture around the way we communicate, work and live our daily lives, we cannot ignore how our online 'life' is intertwined with our real life, creating new risks that must be avoided with enactment clear rules.
Let's look at some of them:
- If businesses expect employees to be available at all times, they must be prepared to end policies "Bring your own device" to ensure the separation between personal and private life. That means giving employees work-only devices – not just laptops, but smartphones too. Companies need to ensure that both they and their employees are aware of the implications of using the same device for work and private life.
- Even though some users are taking advantage of the upcoming legislation for the right to disconnect, everyone is affected by the data policies of their favorite cloud service. While this should be a concern for both personal and business data, companies should at least use applications that encrypt data and collect minimal data, and preferably use applications that store all messages and media locally on the user's device.
- Companies should no longer offer configuration profiles that employees can install on their personal iOS devices to access their work email and other work platforms.
- Additionally, it is necessary to implement clear password rules to discourage employees from using the same password for personal and work accounts and to require multi-factor authentication.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, during the pandemic, the number of Facebook users decreased for the first time in 18 years by about half a million users. Although it has since recovered, does this episode finally indicate that the heyday of traditional social media platforms has passed?
The future is full of amazing technologies, collaboration tools, and more humanized online social experiences, but the fine line that separates the different spheres of our lives will continue to blur.