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"I always feel like somebody's watching me"...

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.

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RE: Violated?
By Kenenniah on 5/22/2008 9:18:30 PM , Rating: 2
In a way we are kind of arguing different points. To put it more simply, the way I look at it is this.
What it boils down to in my opinion, is whether an employee has a right to use company computers for personal reasons. Since the company is paying for the computers etc., and providing them to the employee with a specific purpose (doing work), I argue that they don't have an inherent right for personal use. If they don't have the right for personal use, then how can they have a right to personal privacy on those machines?

In the bathroom scenario, the restrooms are provided for very specific purposes, which inherently include privacy for bodily functions. After all, that is one of the primary reasons bathrooms are provided. Even then, if for example there was reason to believe drug deals were being conducted in the restrooms, the company would find some way to investigate. Not cameras over the toilets for obvious reasons, but they'd find some other method.

In a general sense, using company equipment for personal use is stealing. While we don't care if an employee prints off a recipe once in awhile for example, it's entirely another matter if they are constantly printing out 500 page books. In effect they are stealing paper, ink/toner, printer wear and maintanence costs, productivity, and time from the company.

Even the IRS makes a distinction between business and personal use of company assets. I have to pay income taxes based on how much I use my company car for personal driving. One could argue that personal use of computer computers etc. should fall into the same category.

One other aspect often not mentioned, is that when using a work email account, the company's name is on every outgoing email sent. When sending that email, the employee is acting as a representative of the company, and the company can be held liable under some circumstances for what that employee does with his email and internet access.

I do agree with your general sentiment however. I believe companies need to draw lines and be careful with their policies. On the one hand you want to protect your company interests, but you do have to take employee morale into account. You don't want them feeling oppressed and thinking the company is watching their every little move. It's all about finding a balance. After all, happy employees are good from a caring AND business standpoint.

RE: Violated?
By teckytech9 on 5/23/2008 1:31:31 AM , Rating: 2
It's all about finding a balance.

The balance can be argued to the ownership of all employee emails, and for all generated emails for any company in question. This can be a sensitive issue since authority of ownership often lies with the CEO, CIO, or other company executives.

Companies as individual entities tend to keep most of its matters such as company perks, bonuses and stock options private. What is interesting in the whole process is that emails taken as a record of communications, can be deleted "at will" as well as the personnel contracts of its employees. Most employees enjoy company perks, especially "milking the cow" while its still there.

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