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Do Employers Monitor Your Computer Usage at Work?

Is Big Brother (or at least the senior management team) watching what goes on when you sit down each day and fire up your PC workstation? And what, out of all your computer usage, is being looked for most?

Im being watchedEmployers monitoring the computer and internet usage of employees is a controversial subject. Employees feel uncomfortable and worry that their privacy is being violated, while employers believe they have the right to monitor whatever they wish in the workplace.


In the United States, the practice is legal and quite widespread. A 2015 survey from the American Management Association found that at least 66 percent of U.S. companies monitor employee internet use, 45 percent log keystrokes, and 43 percent track employee e-mails.


The systems and software employers use to monitor activity may be new, but the practice itself is not. Henry Ford was known to walk the factory floor with a stop watch in hand. He would time how long it took employees to perform their job tasks.


As technology has evolved, monitoring employees has become both easier and less expensive. By and large, it is no longer a questions of whether you are being monitored at all, but rather what is being monitored, how is it being monitored, and why is it being monitored.


The What


What can an employer monitor? The short answer is: everything. Connecting to a company network enables the company to log just about everything a typical employee does at his or her desk: internet surfing, e-mails sent and received, stored files, computer applications usage, IM chats, and so forth. Your personal data is not excluded. Employers can monitor your personal chat activities, calls, and e-mails.


The ability to monitor an employee’s private conduct, however, dictates that data protection laws apply. Employers are generally prohibited from disclosing any such information to a third-party entity and will usually do so only if a crime is being committed, or if they are protecting their business, resources and reputation.


The How


The most convenient and practical manner to monitor employee activities is via the company’s internet gateway. This allows the logging and easy evaluation of all internet activities, including searches, websites visited, e-mail messages sent and received, and, of course, files downloaded.


Such monitoring is even cost effective, as there are plenty of free “snoopware” packages available. One possible downside to this method is that it is difficult for companies to track local off-line usage.


Current workstation monitoring software packages are very effective at logging every keystroke you do. Although not necessary, a common practice is to install software on employee computers.


Most software programs also now store info about a user’s activities, even if the computer is not connected to a company network. Once the computer is reconnected to the network, all previous activities automatically log back and are readily viewable for whoever is watching.


The Why


If you are an employee who absent-mindedly surfs the internet and handles personal e-mails at work (and we all are), then you should be feeling somewhat uneasy. While the motivation for monitoring employees differs among companies, such activity occurs primarily for four reasons: