Your Company Can (and Probably Does) Track What You Do Online

Out of every hour, how many minutes are spent diligently completing a work-related task and how many are spent clicking around the web – some light shopping, checking the weather or social media, reading an article like this one? Any honest assessment would probably paint a less than flattering picture of on-task time versus off-task time. There’s a good chance your employer knows your on-task/off-task percentage. Even if the company doesn’t know, it is certainly capable of finding out.

The concept is as old as punching in and out of the factory time clock, but the specific technology emerged at around the same time as computer networking. (We were reprimanded in the 1990s for checking a Hotmail account while on the clock. Another coworker was fired and escorted from the building when his internet browsing took an even less professional turn.)

In a world where the line between hours on the job and hours away from the job are so blurred, we’ve also blurred our domestic life with our work life. You might not even think about what your employer may know about you based on what you do at work. For many of us, it’s perfectly natural to shop online during a lunch break, or schedule a dental exam between phone calls.

You may already know that your employer can track:
● When you log on
● What you do while on your company computer
● What programs you open and websites you visit, and for how long

You may be surprised to learn that your employer can track and see:
● Individual keystrokes
● Passwords and other forms of encryption
● Private messages and emails

Maybe most shocking: Your employer can track how you are using your personal device – a phone, tablet, or laptop – if you are using the company WiFi.

Employers have good reason to monitor all of this, said Michael Hall, owner and consultant with New Jersey-based Cadence Technology Solutions.

Companies need to protect their intellectual property:
● An employee could inadvertently leak company plans
● An employee could inadvertently leak confidential client data
● Financial, medical, and many science industries are required by regulation to keep data safe

But while your IT department people can see what you are buying online or writing to your kid’s soccer coach, they likely aren’t bothering with it.

“In most businesses, the IT guys tend to be overwhelmed, so they aren’t looking to see what bikini you bought,” said Hall, formerly vice president of information technology at UnitedHealth Group. Instead, they are looking for activities that could damage the company – illegal or unethical activities, sites that could introduce viruses, etc.

The law is almost completely on the employer’s side. Usually company policy or an employee contract explicitly states that employees have no expectation of privacy when using company equipment and technology, including WiFi.

And remember, bandwidth is not free. Your company is paying for it. Hall said one company suffered an extraordinary network slowdown – to the point where even simple emails couldn’t get out. The reason? An employee was attempting to email several gigabytes of vacation photos to family members. The IT team had to go in, review the photos, and then delete each email. That had to be embarrassing for the employee.

Do you have company policies or best practices to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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