Why Bans Don’t Work

August 30th, 2007 10 Comments

Effectively immediately, nothing will be banned.

The Summer of Facebook has brought a new list of social network (sorry Mark, social utility) bans, as well as some fuzzy research on the cost of social networking. Some interesting points:banned.png

We’ve had some of the same rumblings around Connect. It’s a time-waster, I have a real job, etc. I’m happy to say we’ve stayed relevant to work, and there are no bans on social networks at Oracle.

I understand the concerns. What I don’t understand is the myopia of corporate IT departments. Where’s the trust? And even more importantly, where’s the vision?

I guess the answer in this case is that a ban is easy to maintain and easy to support. Just slap facebook.com on the router ACL, and you’re good to go. But if history is any guide at all, bans don’t last, and they cost money. Some examples:

Oracle used to ban wireless use, of any kind with a company computer, period. Never mind the fact that the new laptops they deployed came with a wireless card, or that a growing percentage of employees worked from home. No wireless, or you are so fired. Why? Wireless has been historically insecure and tough to monitor. I’m not sure what turned the tide, but now, we have wireless in many of the offices, and its use is encouraged because guess what? Wireless lets me work more.

I know a guy whose company banned all types of IM. I always wondered if they preferred paying the phone bill to having a free communication mechanism.

When I started at Oracle 11 years ago, the firewall was closed, i.e. no Interweb for you. To get out of the firewall, you had to have an SNK and approved access. When the firewall opened, we could do research, competitive analysis, etc. All for free.

At the end of the day, all these bans cost more than they were worth, and they didn’t stick because in each case, the ban choked employee productivity.

So, say you save some worker productivity by banning Facebook. Is it enough to equal the amount of employee goodwill lost, i.e. you don’t trust them enough to do the right thing? What about potential sales lost from networking with prospects and customers on Facebook? Or recruits lost because your company has a ban policy? Or employees who left because they didn’t care for your draconian policies?

Sure these are intangibles, but the math is just about as fuzzy as the math offered up by SurfControl.

Having been in IT, I understand paranoia and distrust of technology you cannot control. What I don’t understand is the lack of hindsight and vision from corporate management. IT is supposed to be risk averse, but executives should step in and make the right choices for the company. You know, put the lead in leader.

If not, then the edge needs to rise up and change the policies, or find another job at a ban-free place.

Update: Corrected my own fuzzy math in the original. Computer World has an article citing Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) as recommending permissive policies vs. banning and overreaction.


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10 Responses to “Why Bans Don’t Work”

  1. Meg Says:

    I was recently surprised, listening to a someone in IT [for a very large corporation], who mentioned that their big employee initiative was to add support for IM.

    This was not a long time ago, this was less then a year ago, and I found myself horrified that they consider this new.

    I am hopeful that IT is learning its lesson and, as you say, realizing that controlling progress by creating bans will not work and will ultimately make them look dumb.

  2. Meg Says:

    I was recently surprised, listening to a someone in IT [for a very large corporation], who mentioned that their big employee initiative was to add support for IM.

    This was not a long time ago, this was less then a year ago, and I found myself horrified that they consider this new.

    I am hopeful that IT is learning its lesson and, as you say, realizing that controlling progress by creating bans will not work and will ultimately make them look dumb.

  3. Jake Says:

    It’s not just looking dumb anymore; it’s costing companies. I don’t think we can blame IT; they will always take the conservative approach, which is correct for IT. It’s management’s failure to take a forward-looking stance, rather than accepting the knee-jerk “ban everything” reaction.

    Quoth The Dead Milkmen, “we gotta blow up those things we don’t understand”.

    Jake

  4. Jake Says:

    It’s not just looking dumb anymore; it’s costing companies. I don’t think we can blame IT; they will always take the conservative approach, which is correct for IT. It’s management’s failure to take a forward-looking stance, rather than accepting the knee-jerk “ban everything” reaction.

    Quoth The Dead Milkmen, “we gotta blow up those things we don’t understand”.

    Jake

  5. Noons Says:

    Jake,

    too right, mate. Top post!

  6. Noons Says:

    Jake,

    too right, mate. Top post!

  7. Fabio Seixas Says:

    The other day someone told me that their company bans tinyurl.com. Don’t ask me why.

  8. Fabio Seixas Says:

    The other day someone told me that their company bans tinyurl.com. Don’t ask me why.

  9. Jake Says:

    Weird, maybe that has to do with obscuring the URL, if it’s internal. I’m interested to hear the official story of why, would be educational.
    Thanks, nice addition to the conversation.
    Jake

  10. Jake Says:

    Weird, maybe that has to do with obscuring the URL, if it’s internal. I’m interested to hear the official story of why, would be educational.
    Thanks, nice addition to the conversation.
    Jake

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