Confidentiality issues with “connecting”

One of the issues I’m raising in my social networking ethics presentation today is how to determine whether to publicly acknowledge your relationships with clients on LinkedIn and elsewhere.  As far as I can tell, there aren’t ethics rules on this question but if you were a divorce attorney, you wouldn’t mention the name of a client at a cocktail party, so you shouldn’t connect with them on LinkedIn.  Here some ways to  think about this issue:

  • It takes two to tango: you can’t link with someone without their consent.  But should you make sure that your client knows the implication of linking with you?
  • What if you promise your client to hide his/her identity so that no one will know of the connection?  Sounds good but what if there is a computer glitch that suddenly makes all your connections public?  Do you trust LinkedIn, Facebook etc. to never be exposed to privacy breaches?
  • On LinkedIn you can’t hide some contacts identity while exposing others.  There is a global setting that allows you to either hide ALL or you contacts or share ALL your contacts.  (If there is an over-ride for this setting I want to hear about it.)
  • My recommendation: if you believe the public exposure of your clients’ identities constitutes a confidentiality breach, then you should simply tell your clients you won’t connect with them on any social networking website.  I wouldn’t trust the security settings to keep that information private and what is the value of hidden connections?  Just don’t do it.
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