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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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Not Surprised
By MKct on 5/23/2008 10:53:40 PM , Rating: 2
I work at a large, well known corporation in the IT support department and I am literally amazed at how many people use their "work" assets like their email accounts and PCs for personal use. Now, I am not part of the IT Security team, but I have to assume there is some type of monitoring going on, especially with email. Yet, as I am working on user's PCs, I notice all sorts of personal, non-work related activity in their email (not snooping on them, but hard to ignore when trying to fix issues with Outlook!). Even to the extent of a relatively high up manager having his emails sent to his work address! Whenever I am at work, whatever I may be surfing, I limit to tech sites or any other harmless surfing like sports scores, etc. I try to NEVER use my work email for personal communications. This tends to get difficult when the company has pretty much all webmail blocked on the proxy servers, but I am always assuming that any mail sent via the company email system is subject to monitoring. In fact, even if they did allow webmail access, im sure those packets would be sniffed as well. Most companies have some kind of disclaimer regarding what they may or may not be monitoring, and if an employee chooses to ignore that, then they may eventually have to suffer the consequences.

In a world where it is becoming increasingly difficult to "disconnect" from the office, people still need to use some better judgement in keeping their personal lives out of the office and its equipment. It'd be nice to not have users wanting you to back up their iTunes collections they have on their work PCs, or asking if a certain USB toy will function on their work PC so that their kids can play with it at home!!!

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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