Computer Privacy at the Office – It’s a Myth

Computer Privacy at the Office – It’s a Myth

As I mentioned before, an employee can’t be certain that use of the employer’s computers will remain private.  Employers are worried about the loss of trade secrets, such as customer lists and pending contracts.  They also are concerned by the amount of nonproductive time that people spend on the computer.  A new study just reported that one-third of the large employers surveyed have personnel dedicated to reading outgoing email.  A higher proportion report monitoring outbound email.  Employers also monitor social websites, and look for evidence of their employees leaking sensitive information, or badmouthing them.

Email is seductively easy, and that delete key seems permanent.  Yet deleted files are not too hard for an expert to recover, and outgoing emails can be intercepted and copied if the employer’s computer is set up that way.  Personal messages should be sent from home, or from a personal hand-held device.

Even if the employer does not actively monitor outgoing email, employees need to separate their private and job lives.  This is more difficult when the employee’s main computer is a company-provided laptop.  But I’ve seen many instances when an employee is suddenly terminated, and cannot get access to saved emails, personal financial information, list of favorite websites, and other personal letters or writings.  The employer now has access to all of that, and may well decide to take a look.  I’ve also seen employees fired for personal use of the employer’s computer systems, especially if the personal use includes dirty jokes, pornography, racist jokes, and similar content that makes the employer nervous, for good reason.

Protect yourself – keep your private life private, and review that company policy manual on computer usage.

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