Corporate Firewalls Blocking Blogs

    October 26, 2005

If you’re behind a company firewall, there’s an increasing chance that you’re not able to read this-or any other-blog.

A few months back, while working with a client, I entered the URL of a blog that contained information that would be useful to the task at hand. Instead of getting to the blog, the screen displayed one of those corporate security notices that I was trying to access an unauthorized site. My client rolled his eyes and said, “They must be blocking blogs.” I was able to get to my blog, which is not hosted by any of the blogging services, but Blogger, Typepad, and the other hosted services were inaccessible. I was aghast. “Does your IT department know,” I told him, “how many bloggers are writing about your industry?”

Over at , Todd Cochrane reports that his company’s IT department has blocked any site with the word “blog” in it. Cochrane also points to a Wired article about an increasing number of companies shutting down employee access to blogs. These companies cite security fears:

…companies worry that employees might leak sensitive material-perhaps inadvertently-while posting comments to blog message boards. In a survey of over 300 large businesses conducted in conjunction with Forrester, Proofpoint found 57.2 percent of respondents were concerned with employees exposing sensitive material in blogs. That’s higher than the portion concerned with the risks of P2P networks.

Others think the security issue is a smokescreen and that companies are more concerned that employees are wasting work time on blogs; the old productivity issue is raising its ugly head again.

Andy Lark reports where some of these fears may be coming from-another one of those absurd surveys that talley up the number of hours employees spend reading blogs and equating that to lost productivity. This one, from Advertising Age, claims workers will waste the equivalent of 551,000 years in 2005 reading blogs. Blog readers, the research suggests, take daily 40-minute blog breaks.

Rather than ascertain if there really is a problem-if work isn’t getting done on time or the quality of work is suffering-reactionary IT managers simply throw up a roadblock. I keep wondering: With all these online obstacles to productivity, why does the Labor Department continue to report increased US worker productivity? The answer is simple, from where I sit: Workers are making up the time they spend on non-work related activities, on top of which the Net is already making them more productive.

Cochrane sees it this way: “For those of you that are dealing with an IT department that is about control verus productivity, we interupt this discussion to say some are taking 20 years of innovation and have reduced my computer’s ability to perform down to word processing and e-mail. “What these IT departments fail to understand is that blogs offer a rich source of information that can improve productivity. In the workplace, blogs can serve as a knowledge-sharing resource. With over 20 million blogs tracked by Technorati, there are bound to be some that address a question or problem an employee is working on. (Every one of the blogs I track each morning is related to my work.) But rather than communicate policies to prevent problems, some companies are simply shutting off access.

It’s not just businesses, either. In New Jersey, a private high school principal assembled the school’s 900 students in an assembly and told them they had to take down any blogs they may have created or face suspension. The rationale: Keep the kids safe from online predators. Says Electronic Froniter Foundation staff attorney Kevin Bankston, “”It’s an incredible overreaction based on an unproven problem. If they’re concerned about safety, they could train students in what they should or shouldn’t put online. Kids shouldn’t be robbed of the primary communication tool of their generation.”

Again, training versus censorship is the intelligent solution. Expect to see more institutions implement the draconian solution instead.

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.