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AVG Technologies Study Reveals Social Media Stokes Workplace Privacy Fears

More than half of adults (53 percent) believe privacy in the workplace has been eroded with the proliferation of social media, reveals AVG Technologies’ latest Digital Diaries study, Digital Work Life. The seventh installment in AVG’s Digital Diaries series includes responses from 4,000 adults in ten countries in relation to cyberbullying in the workplace.

The study found that the misuse of social media has infiltrated the workplace with often negative effects on employees’ privacy, forcing many to switch off or limit their use of social networking sites. One in ten respondents discovered secret discussions about them online were initiated by colleagues using social media, and 11 percent have had embarrassing photos or videos taken at a work event and uploaded onto social media sites. This is as high as 19 percent in Spain and 14 percent in the UK. A small number of all adults (6 percent) even found themselves subjected to unwanted romantic advances through online media, and in the US this number rose to one in ten of all adults.

As the use of social media increases for both personal and professional purposes, the privacy many workers value and expect is slowly diminishing through employee misuse and cyberbullying. To prevent personal information from being circulated at work, many adults are turning away from social media altogether. Of those who agreed social media has eroded their privacy at work, nearly a quarter (24 percent) now avoid posting on social networks that have caused them privacy concerns, while 23 percent limit their posts. More than half (53 percent) are more careful about what they post.

Tony Anscombe, AVG’s Senior Security Evangelist, said: “This study highlights the need for a combination of greater education around social media alongside stricter enforcement of the accompanying standards for social media etiquette at work. And we’re not just talking about employees here; employers can trip themselves up just as easily when managing the company’s own social media presence. Until everyone is clear about exactly what is and isn’t acceptable online behavior, trying to enforce policies will just fail, leaving the door open to cyberbullying and invasion of privacy. If organizations take the time to first educate before establishing and enforcing policies, privacy can be protected in the workplace without having to sacrifice any of the social activity we all enjoy.”

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. The research shows adults are now finding themselves in unchartered territory when it comes to social media in the workplace. 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.”

Other key findings include:

  • Forms of cyberbullying: Four out of five (82 percent) adults believe that sending unpleasant or defamatory remarks to or about a colleague using digital communications constitutes cyberbullying (93 percent in UK and New Zealand). Other forms of cyberbullying include posting negative comments on a social media site about a colleague’s appearance at a work event (79 percent) and criticizing a colleague behind their back through email, instant messaging, social media or SMS (69 percent).
  • Incriminating or embarrassing activity online: Nearly one in ten (nine percent) adults has had a manager use information against them or a colleague which has been found on a social media site. This is highest in the US (13 percent) and Czech Republic (12 percent).
  • Cyberbullying driving workplace confrontations: Cyberbullying can easily spill over into heated debates in the workplace with more than half (51 percent) of adults admitting they would confront colleagues in person if they felt they were the victim of cyberbullying. This is as high as 65 percent in Germany, 56 percent in France and 54 percent in the Czech Republic. One in 10 (11 percent) would retaliate to cyberbullying through digital communication.
  • Cyberbullying policies: A quarter of adults (25 percent) are not protected from cyberbullying as workplaces do not cover this within existing policies. Only 37 percent of all adults know of a comprehensive policy, which covers cyberbullying, in the workplace. This is highest in Australia (57 percent) and the UK (51 percent) and lowest in France (20 percent) and Germany (23 percent).
  • Social media responsibility: Half of all adults (50 percent) believe their company is responsible for the online behavior of employees during work hours if they are using their personal social media accounts. Sentiment is felt strongest in Canada (63 percent) and the US (61 percent) while only 27 percent of Germans agree with this. Outside of work hours, only 16 percent of all adults agree that companies are responsible for employees’ online behavior.

About AVG Digital Diaries

The first stage of AVG’s Digital Diaries campaign, Digital Birth, focused on children from birth to age two. The study, released in October 2010, found that on average, infants acquire a digital identity by the age of six months old. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of children have had their pre-birth scans uploaded to the Internet by their parent – establishing a digital footprint even before birth. The second stage, Digital Skills, was released in January 2011 and showed that for two to five year olds, ‘tech’ skills are increasingly replacing ‘life’ skills. In fact, many toddlers could use a mouse and play a computer game, but could not ride a bike, swim or tie their shoelaces.

Digital Playground, released in June 2011, found nearly half of six to nine year olds talk to friends online and use social networks. This was followed with Digital Maturity in November 2011, which revealed how 11 year olds had developed adult skills in technology. Digital Coming of Age, the fifth installment of AVG’s Digital Diaries study was released in April 2012, which interviewed parents of 14-17 year olds, found that nearly half of parents keep tabs on teens via Facebook, latest AVG Technologies’ research reveals.

Digital Baggage - released in October 2012 delved further into the theme of social media usage. Research, which involved interviews with 18-25 year olds about their online habits, found that one quarter were Facebook friends with their boss - which could potentially damage their career prospects.

The seventh installment, Digital Work Life, examines cyberbullying and privacy in the workplace with 4,000 workers surveyed across ten countries: UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Czech Republic. More than half of the respondents revealed that the misuse of social media has eroded privacy in the workplace.

Research for all stages of the Digital Diaries series was conducted by Research Now on behalf of AVG Technologies.

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About AVG Technologies (NYSE: AVG)

AVG's mission is to simplify, optimize and secure the Internet experience, providing peace of mind to a connected world. AVG's powerful yet easy-to-use software and online services put users in control of their Internet experience. By choosing AVG's software and services, users become part of a trusted global community that benefits from inherent network effects, mutual protection and support. AVG has grown its user base to 143 million active users as of September 30, 2012 and offers a product portfolio that targets the consumer and small business markets and includes Internet security, PC performance optimization, online backup, mobile security, identity protection and family safety software.

Keep in touch with AVG

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