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Some firms, and Pentagon, block social networking sites

The Baltimore Sun

My friend can't surf shopping and personal e-mail Web sites at work.

No surprise, considering that many companies have policies governing computer usage, including blocking employee access to commercial and inappropriate Web sites.

Nowadays, she could also forget about logging onto Facebook, which she recently joined.

As the popularity of personal and professional social networking sites grows, employers are taking steps to curb employee use of them in the office because of concerns about productivity and security.

Half of the 600 employees recently surveyed by Sophos, a global information technology security and control firm, said their companies block or restrict access to Facebook. The Boston-based company said it has seen an increase in clients using its software to block other social networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo.

Perhaps the most-publicized employer to cut off access to such sites is the Department of Defense. It has banned military personnel from using its computer system to socialize and trade photos and videos on MySpace, YouTube and other Web sites. The Pentagon noted security concerns and technological limits.

Not everyone believes prohibiting such access is the right course.

In Britain, the Trades Union Congress, the country's largest labor federation, said that although employers are within their rights to prohibit workers from using social networking sites during work hours, a total ban "may be something of an overreaction," according to guidance issued on its Web site last week.

Baltimore's T. Rowe Price Group Inc. blocks YouTube for security reasons but other sites remain open, spokesman Steve Norwitz said. T. Rowe Price allows its employees to post professional profiles on Facebook, he says.

"As people download videos, they tend to bring viruses into our environment, and we could not see any possible work-related need for it," he writes in an e-mail.

Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute in Columbus, Ohio, says senior executives are behind the curve when it comes with dealing with employee use of emerging technology. Before social networking sites, there were issues involving e-mail, instant messaging and blogging, Flynn says.

Blocking access to Web sites is usually the easiest step, Flynn says, but it isn't enough. Flynn recommends that employers update their electronic policy each year, incorporating rules governing new technology.

Do you think workers should have access to social networking sites at work? Send me your thoughts.

From the mailbag: Besides writing thank-you notes as a way to stand out after a job interview or sales meeting, David, a reader from White Hall, says the practice is common courtesy.

"My wife and I always stressed thank-you notes with our two daughters, starting when they were old enough to write," he writes.

"We must have gotten our point across because both daughters, now grown, still write thank-you notes for gifts received or favors done. And they do it right away. They don't procrastinate."

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