Do you ever feel like someone is watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake? Well if you're part of one of the 41 percent of largest U.S. companies that monitor their employees email on a regular basis, you might not be so crazy after all.
A surprising new survey is illustrative of the increasing loss of privacy on the internet, particular in public locations. The company that published the study, Proofpoint, states that the cause of this privacy loss is not entirely malicious. Companies have become fearful of information leaks over email, blogs, message boards, media sharing sites and mobile devices. Over 44 percent of companies admitted to performing investigations into leaks this year.
Companies are responding by increasing employee monitoring. Of the companies with over 20,000 employees, approximately 41 percent were found to monitor outbound email. Of the large companies approximately 22 percent hired employees chiefly for the purpose of monitoring the other employees' email.
Aside from email leaks, 40 percent of companies reported investigating email violations of privacy or data protection regulations. The results of these investigations -- 26 percent of all companies surveyed report terminating an employee within the last year for email policy violation. Further, 23 percent of companies responded that their business had been impacted by the release of sensitive or embarrassing materials from within the company. Of the largest companies, 34 percent report that their employee email was subpoenaed within the last year.
Companies aren’t just worrying about and watching employees' email communications, either. Of all the companies surveyed, a surprising 27 percent reported that they lost confidential information through lost or stolen mobile devices within the last year. In the past year 11 percent of companies reported disciplining employees for blogs or message boards. In addition, 13 percent report punishing employees for inappropriate use of social networking sites and 14 percent report punishing employees for using media sharing sites.
Blogs are also under investigation these days. Of the companies surveyed 14 percent of companies report investigating the release of material financial information (such as unannounced financial results) on blogs and message boards.
The unfortunate side effect of this trend is that it’s hard to tell companies are merely watching out for their own interests from companies who are looking to snoop inappropriately in employees personal lives. The trend surely will leave many employees feeling a bit violated.
However, even those employees that are not subject to corporate monitoring may fall under the scope of increased government monitoring programs in the U.S. and abroad. The UK government recently announced plans to try to collect its citizens' email, web, and phone history. Web monitoring efforts here in the U.S. are also widely known. People are having to face the somewhat unpleasant reality that their private lives online are becoming less and less private.