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Monitoring Employees' Internet Activity

Periodically the subject of monitoring employee internet activity comes up in the small business environment. Typically, I recommend just blocking objectionable sites at the firewall and not monitoring the employees. Monitoring the employees has the following pitfalls:

1 - You will collect so much information that you will never have a chance to go through it.

2 - There is no way to enforce it consistently and this will lead to legal trouble when it eventually ends up being used to admonish one employee for activities that other employees are also doing. You will end up having to say out loud, with a straight face, things like espn.com is OK but bodybuilding.com is not OK

3 - It takes a certain amount of skill to interpret the monitoring of software readouts. For example, let say an employee gets to work at 9 am, opens msn messenger and sends one text that says "I got to work OK", then they do not use the software again till 5 when they send a text message such as "leaving work". However, they left msn messenger running from 9 am to 5 pm. At first glance the report will appear to say that the user texted for 9 hours because it will list msn messenger as being open for 9 hours. In this case you will have to drill down into the report and see that msn messenger was only given 27 key strokes in 9 hours. Clearly, that is not abuse of work time.

4 - The monitoring issue is further complicated in the case of laptops that staff take home or travel with as now you will need rules about after hours usage.

5 - What will you do if you see that an employee is looking up "breast cancer" or "erectile dysfunction" or "something very embarassing" or "HIV symptoms" or "Lesbian dating"? Will someone talk to them about this? If they are let go, and they sue because you are discriminating against "People with cancer", do you want to be able to say "We had no idea" or do you want their discovery process to show that you knew all along? If you collect this information will you be able to keep it out of the office gossip rotation?

6 - Sometimes this software is used as a tool to provide an excuse to fire an employee that is underperforming or disliked. This is a very bad idea as it exposes the company to legal issues.

Certainly there are times when monitoring is warranted. It is warranted if you suspect theft of business data or assets. Real theft of data however often involves just a quick phone call from home, or transfer of data to a usb drive. These will not show up in an Internet monitoring tool. Internet activity monitoring is only part of a complete business security plan.

When employee monitoring was required in the small business environment, I have used this software.  It is inexpensive and thorough. There are many other such monitoring software that are equally good. Make sure to see a demo of any software before you buy. Testing in your environment before you buy, with a 30 day trial for example, is even better.

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Margaretha Geertruida Zelle - "The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word."
 

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