Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - privacy at work

I think anyone with even a basic understanding of technology recognizes that there is no privacy at work. When I worked for Mother Corp., it was pretty evident that the company owned all the equipment that the lilliputian employees were allowed to use.

We were supposed to be thankful that the benevolent employer saw fit to provide us with high-speed Internet access, a computer, a working telephone and a lovely brown-beige cubicle in which all this magic was installed. The generations-old burnt-orange carpet squares laid down directly on linoleum (no padding) completed the effect.

In exchange, the company reserved the right to record any and all traffic that coursed its way into and out of that cubicle. And if we logged in from home during evenings, weekends and vacations, we were just as likely to have our conversations tracked. So many of us can recall the threatening e-mail from the Proxy Police advising us that we had violated the terms of use policy because we dared send our parents risque pictures from our most recent family BBQs.

All of this is, frankly, not such a big deal. This is the state of the world today, and it is our challenge to understand and adapt to it. So it was with surprise that I read a report of a study that confirmed the degree to which companies in Canada spy on their employees. I couldn't believe that given all we know, stuff like this is still shocking to some of us.

So I wrote this for today's paper:
Common sense will thwart spying boss
Published Wednesday, July 12, 2006
The London Free Press

News this week that many Canadian employees are under surveillance in the workplace should hardly come as a surprise to any of us.

The Ryerson University survey, Under the Radar, concludes employers are recording phone calls, tracking e-mails, and gathering information from security passes. They claim to be protecting corporate interests and preventing employee abuses.

But it’s just as easy to see the potential for bosses to abuse all this power and access.

Policies governing how the resulting information is to be used are few and far between. Human resources personnel are often unaware of the full range of technologies being used to spy on workers.

A little common sense, however, can shut the spy-bosses down. Never use an office computer or phone for any questionable or non-business-related activity. If you have to think about it, wait until you get home.

Trusting Corporate Canada to behave in employees’ best interests is about as advisable as allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. Individual workers are ultimately accountable for protecting themselves.

Your turn: What's your perspective on employers monitoring employees' electronic activities? What's fair? What isn't?


Anonymous said...

When my husband took a leave of absence from the Computer software company he worked for - located on the West Island (over by P.E.T. Airport) because he had a nervous breakdown and was subsequently diagnosed BI-Polar II, the company he worked for from Montreal spent alot of time reading and policing my personal blog and reading and removing posts to try to justify not paying his medical insurance after abusing him as an employer.

With Stat Tracker I tracked the IP back to the server in their West Island office and because they had taken personal information from my blog they violated the Quebec Civil Code on privacy issues.

When I started writing about their spying directly pointing out the I.P. addresses and the location of the sets in the very office that they sat in, I found out that one of the directors of the department had been reading my blogs collecting personal data on my husbands medical condition and my personal observances of his recovery and medical regimen, and taking information from my blog and using it against us.

By pointing out the infractions online, one morning the police showed up at our door with a restraining order - ordering me to cease and desist talking about them or face jail time. I can not name them but the company name starts with the letter "M" (It's Sesame Street!)

Fancy that !!

They tried to get off from paying his disability insurance to him because they believed we were fleecing the company and they did not want to pay.

At that point he was being seen by a nurse from the Royal Bank Insurance company and his doctor. When we reported the abuse of our privacy and my personal blog, they filed suit against the employer and they (RBC) agreed to pay out 6 months extra on his disability leave of absence insurance before he finally quit entirely. The extra months of payout assistance was charged to the company as punishment for breeching personal online information.

We filed a suit with the Regie du travaille du Quebec and they never followed through with our complaint ever...

They would not follow up on the case because we found out that there were hundreds of abuse claims filed by other employees against the West Island Computer software company "M"

This was a blatant abuse of power over employees AND their spouses "Outside" the confines of the office setting.

That's why it is important to make sure you know your specific Provincial Code of Civil rights when it comes to personal online information and the Provinces ability to access, collect and use that data against you.

There have been several cases where bloggers were fired from their jobs after blogging about the companies they worked for.


Jeff said...

Our bosses sent the staff a note recently saying that IM use (MSN) was too high and detracting from workplace productivity, and that usage would be monitored and if it didn't drop it would be disallowed.

While there's somewhat of a point, the fact is anything can be abused if the person is prone to do it. I guess this is veering away form the privacy thesis somewhat, but you need to treat your employees like adults.

Employees will have to adapt and find a balance, and employers will gave to treat their staff with some respect. The next wave to enter the workforce will have grown up with technology like texting and IM'ing, if employers want to attract top talent these tools will have to be integrated into their business processes.

And on privacy, obviously it's the company's equipment, so there are boundaries. But really, as long as the employee is doing their job and getting their work done, checking their hotmail at work or sending a few IMs shouldn't be a big deal. Common sense should be exercised by both sides.

Anonymous said...

I work for a large American ins. co.'s corporate law firm. They monitor our going in and out the doors, and everything on the computer, including email. It IS their equipment, but I do think it's intrusive. The reason being, your talking on the phone, gossiping in cubicles is on company time too, yet that isn't monitored. I understand the reasoning WHY, I just don't think it's necessary. I'm so less trusting than I used to be years ago....does this mean I'm old?

Juliness said...

I have worked in the private sector as well as the public one and am currently employed in the FUN sector (yes, I promise there is such a thing) and have had more monitoring experiences in the private sector. They tend to pay more so logic follows they would
have more *say* in how you spend your time while at work.

Personally, if I am "on the clock" I do my best not to handle personal business during that time. The water gets a bit muddied when you work at home, but I still try.

kenju said...

Carmi, first I want to say thanks for the visit. I did notice the shadow and the play of sunlight in the pic, but coming from you - a master of photos - that compliment is great praise. Thanks!

I think an employer should be able to monitor email, if it is done on a company machine and on company time.

Star said...

As long as I am "on the clock" and using company provided equipment and internet access, or any other method of company provided informatiom, I think they have a right to monitor what I say and do. Everytime I sign on I see the warning. It's not like they aren't upfront about it. That being said, I can support the company repremanding you for using company time and equipment for personal reasons, but not using anything personal they may find out about you, against you.

Jennifer said...

i always wondered if my emails were being monitored when i worked. i dont think they were becuase i emailed my mom a lot from work... especially when i started having problems with my supervisor and i would forward the crap to my mom and she would write me back telling me what she thought of it all... if they had been reading my emails... they would have fired me for sure!