Privacy Concern? Outlook Email Displays Social Media Updates
Microsoft this week announced the addition of Facebook and Windows Live to its social network plugin for Outlook. Outlook Social Connector (OSC) is built-in to Outlook 2010 and available as a plugin for Outlook 2003 and 2007 users. Once installed, Outlook email will include the social data available about the sender, visible to the recipient from her latest Facebook update to a listing of meetings the two of you attended.
This social cheat sheet may help users compose better email messages, but may do so at the price of privacy. Just when Facebook’s privacy issues have died down in the media, Microsoft’s announcement may have employees and their bosses wondering how social media updates attached to every email will impact business communication.
Microsoft Office group product manager, Paco Herrera acknowledged privacy was an important consideration in the OSC expansion. In the launch video, Herrera said OSC “respects people’s choice.”
Users should understand that within Outlook, privacy is an all or nothing proposition. Outlook Social Connector automatically pulls information from Facebook , LinkedIn, MySpace and Windows Live only if the Outlook email is associated with it. Otherwise, users may manually add their social networks or choose not to include networks in Outlook.
Once an Outlook user opts into each social network, the information email recipients will see is determined by his privacy settings within individual networks. According to Microsoft, if you have made any information publicly available to everyone on a social network, then that information will be shown to everyone irrespective of whether or not those users are your friends or colleagues on the social network. Note that this applies to not only senders of email, but to all individuals in the “To” and “Cc” fields.
Herrera said additional social network partners may become available in the future, but declined to specify which ones. Twitter would seem to be a natural partner, and services popular in other parts of the world like Friendster and Bebo could be likely candidates. OSC is available in Arabic, Brazilian, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Thai, with more languages in the upcoming months.
How to add OSC
Outlook Social Connector can be downloaded for free from Microsoft’s download site. Both 64-bit and 32-bit versions are available and must match your computer’s configuration. If you’re not sure what you’re running, go to your start menu, click Computer and select System properties to find the system type. Once installed, close and reopen Outlook. You will see a message letting you know you can now connect Outlook to your online social networks.
Next a listing of available social networks will appear. The list contains only those accounts that are associated with your Outlook email address. In other words, if you set up your Windows Live account with your work email address, it will appear on the list. Frequently, this will not be the case. This window provides a link to a Web page that shows the available social networks.
Each network may be added to Outlook by providing the email address associated with the account. For Facebook, users will have to download another plugin, a complement to OSC. Once it has been installed, the procedure is the same for Facebook accounts as it is for LinkedIn, MySpace and Windows Live users.
What you’ll see
Once you’ve installed OSC, you’ll notice a new boxful of information about the sender below the message in each email you receive. Depending on what’s available from this person, you may see her current Facebook status, a listing of received email and email attachments, and a list of meetings the two of you have attended.
The Outlook integration does not allow direct messaging or other types of communication like writing on someone’s Facebook wall or sending a direct message to a contact on LinkedIn. However, Outlook users can send friend requests or similar invitations to join a social network from Outlook.
OSC aims to provide Outlook users with relevant information when reading and composing email. While well-intentioned, it will be up to social network users to keep in mind that their status updates may no longer be confined to their online friends.
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