Friday, April 4, 2008

Smoking pot and stealing music. Some things never change.

OK, I admit I wrote that title to see if I could trick some people into reading this post. But really, I will actually compare the two. My motivation is a recent article by Linda Tucci, a writer for It made me smile because it was about how millennials don't respect organizational, hierarchical or other boundaries. These millennials are going to cause security headaches because they don't respect IT policies and procedures either.

This is a hot news flash?

In her defense, Tucci was simply reporting on the results of a Symantec survey, first blogged by Symantec employee Samir Kapuria. But those of us who have either been interacting with these younger workers, or have children of that age who are about to enter the workforce, already know we've got an IT compliance disaster waiting to happen. I know that my own daughters have absolutely no respect for IP rights. In their minds, anything on the public web is and ought to be theirs for the taking. Lectures about the morality of downloading music and video fall on deaf ears. As do discussions about network security and malware.

These conversations reminded me of discussions I had with my parents about pot smoking when I was a teenager. My parents lectured me on the evils of marijuana, but in my peer culture at the time, nearly everyone smoked it. In fact, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University had parties every spring, called the Hash Bash , to protest pot laws. While I never had the guts to light up on the steps of the capital and get carted away in nonviolent protest, I wasn't above cutting class (I was in High School at the time) and joining in the party.

Bear with me. This isn't just a stroll down memory lane. It really is about mashups.

In my view at the time, and the view of many in my generation, pot was not only a civil right, it was symbol. Sure, flaunting the anti-pot laws was fun. But it was also morally defensible to break the laws in protest of unnecessarily restrictive rules and regulations. I believed my parent's views were not only behind the times, not just old fashioned. They were wrong, and nothing they said changed my mind.

That's the attitude I see in my children. Talking to them about network security, IP rights, privacy, and even footnoting, is like talking to a brick wall. For them, free access and use of all information is not only a civil right. Breaking IP and security rules is a form of political protest against unnecessary and restrictive rules and regulations. Here's the money quote from the article.

When asked whether they feel entitled to use whatever application or device or technology they would like, regardless of source or corporate IT policies, 69% of millennials said yes, compared with 31% of other workers. Indeed, 75% of millennials have downloaded software on their work computer for personal use, vs. 25% of other workers -- even though 85% of the organizations surveyed indicate their policies restrict that practice. Millennials also regularly store their corporate data on personal devices: 39% on personal computers, 38% on personal USB devices, 20% on personal hard drives and 16% on personal smartphones.

CIOs should be very afraid of these survey results. Especially since the same survey showed that IT and other corporate leaders believe they have good rules in place, and that everyone understands and mostly obeys them. Those who don't comply get fired.

Most of the Millennials I know aren't afraid of losing their job. They aren't going to get intimidated by getting yelled at by the boss. Organizations who try to restrict the use of personal devices, who prohibit social networking and other Web 2.0 applications, who try to legislate the use of web content, are either going to be mired in lawsuits, or are going to find that they can't hire innovative and out-of-the-box thinkers.

What's the alternative? I'd like to fall back on the agreement I've now forged with my children. I've worked for companies that blocked sites, monitored email, recorded web access and filtered out 'bad' words in IM. I didn't care for it, and I wasn't going to turn around and do the same thing in my own home. Nor could I simply ignore the problem. While I know pirating is illegal, I also believe it is wrong.

We finally came to a compromise that we worked out together. They don't completely like it, still believing I'm backwards-thinking. I don't completely like it, believing they will have ample opportunity to break the law. But because it is a negotiated agreement rather than a dictated policy, I have some hope of success.
  • They are now free to download anything that is really free, not pirated free. MySpace is full of 'really free' music and video, and a lot of it is quite good.
  • They can keep their MySpace accounts, but they must allow me access to their profiles. (Neither of them like Facebook. Probably because I use it.)
  • They have an iTunes budget. It isn't large, but it is enough to buy a few songs now and then.
  • They won't download software without my approval. I can only deny the download if the software is harboring malware, if it's content is objectionable or if it will cost too much.
  • They agree not to store any pirated content on their computer.
  • I've asked them not to 'borrow' pirated content from their friends. I've told them I'll throw away any media that I believe has pirated content.
So far it's either working or they are very good at making it appear to work. I won't take bets.

I think IT has to do something similar. In old paternalistic, hierarchical organizations it might be considered a sign of weakness to negotiate policy with subordinates. Our millennials are going to change that mindset. Corporate leaders will need to work with their employees rather than dictate to them, or they will face not being able to recruit or retain the quality of worker they need. So instead of a restrictive IT policy based on sanctions and Big Brother thinking, we'll probably end up with something similar to the agreement I have with my kids.

With respect to mashups, I think we'll also end up with something similar.
  • If you mash content from the web, note the source.
  • If you mash content from behind the firewall, make sure the content isn't sensitive.
  • If you are mashing services from the web, make sure they don't have viruses, understand the costs, and try to use reputable sources.
  • If you are mashing services from behind the firewall, make sure the services don't expose sensitive information.
Are these guidelines bulletproof? Of course not. There isn't an IT policy today that's bulletproof. What these guidelines do is help the masher understand what the issues are and why he/she should be concerned. These guidelines treat the masher like an adult, not like a naughty child or convicted felon that must be monitored.

Some may think this is mere kowtowing to these new bad boys entering the workforce. Further proof that the world is going to Hell in a hand basket. Me? I can't wait until these younger workers roll in and shake everyone up. Will we have chaos? Will there be security problems? Are there going to be mistakes, upheavals and disasters?

Most certainly. But there will also be progress.

(Note to horrified readers: I stopped smoking pot in High School. I didn't then, and still don't, think there is anything wrong with it. I just needed to get my act together academically. After HS I always ended up in jobs that required a security clearance. And now it just doesn't interest me.)

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