One of the most prominent employee monitoring surveys to date revealed that about two-thirds of U.S. companies – 66 percent – monitor their employees’ Internet use.
And that was 10 years ago.
The 2007 American Management Association (AMA) survey found that 45 percent of companies log keystrokes and 43 percent track employee emails. No major study has been released since, but tech and employment experts agree the numbers have increased. By some estimates, 80 percent of companies now monitor employee Internet use.
Typically, employers are looking for one or all of these:
- Policy violations such as visiting inappropriate websites, using inappropriate language in emails, or spending company time on personal activities such as shopping or browsing social media
- Evidence that you’re looking for another job, including job board and recruiting firm searches
- Risky behavior – whether accidental or malicious – that could lead to a data breach, including emailing or printing confidential business information
- Data and statistics on employee productivity
Only two states, Connecticut and Delaware, require companies to notify employees of monitoring, but most employers choose to be transparent. According to the AMA survey, 84 percent of companies that monitor computer activity let their employees know.
How Am I Being Monitored?
The vast majority of companies use employee monitoring software to automate this process. Even in 2007, nearly three-quarters of businesses that monitored emails used technology to do it, rather than assigning someone the task of manually reading emails.
Monitoring software is becoming so popular that the industry is exploding. What was a $200 million industry in 2016 is projected to reach $500 million by 2020, according to 451 Research.
Most monitoring software offers companies flexibility in what type of activity they monitor. They can set up custom flags or filters that send an alert when, for example, a specific topic is searched or a certain word is used in an email. Employers can also set up “rules” that track, flag and help prevent certain behavior, including visiting malware-infected websites or emailing sensitive records.
The tricky thing for employees is that it’s almost impossible to tell which activities your boss is monitoring. The company might be keeping tabs on only flagrant policy violations such as visiting an adult website, or they might be watching just about everything you do.
Can I Stop Employee Monitoring?
In a word, no. Employers have the legal right to monitor what takes place within their walls — and on company-issued devices. Employee contracts usually outline these rights. However, unless you agree to it, employers do not have the right to monitor your personal devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops, even if you sometimes use them for work purposes.
Keep in mind that there are important and legitimate reasons to monitor employee activity. Most of the time the purpose is simply to protect the business, not to snoop.
Employees cause more data breaches than hackers, sometimes purely by accident. According to a 2009 report from the American Management Association (AMA) and The ePolicy Institute, 14 percent of employees have emailed confidential information to a third party, while 6 percent have emailed credit card and Social Security information. Without monitoring tools, these undetected violations can cause major damage to a company’s reputation and finances.
How To Stay Under The Radar
About 30 percent of bosses have fired an employee for Internet misuse, the 2007 AMA study found. While 28 percent have fired a subordinate for email violations.
To avoid joining this statistic, never assuming anything you do at work or on a work-issued device is private. Assume you’re being monitored, even if you don’t know for sure. A simple rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t tell your boss about, don’t do it.
If you want to know whether you’re being monitored, ask. Most employers are willing to share this information. If they’re evasive, take that to mean yes.
About The Author
Isaac Kohen is the founder and CEO of Teramind, an employee monitoring and insider threat prevention platform that detects, records, and prevents, malicious user behavior. Isaac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ITSecCentral @TeramindCo