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There has been recent talk at my company about software being used to monitor employee's activities on their work computers.

How would I be able to find out if my company uses this type of software?

How should I adjust my behavior when using work computers if I know I am being monitored?

closed as off-topic by alroc, Jim G., Joe Strazzere, enderland, Garrison Neely Jul 22 '14 at 13:46

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    Err, this would surely depend on too many things to be answerable. Country (legality of monitoring), contracts, companies, etc... – yochannah Jul 20 '14 at 14:09
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    Legalities aside, when you're at work it's their time and their equipment. Use the time appropriately and then monitoring doesn't matter so much. – occulus Jul 20 '14 at 15:50
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    Move your monitor screen so that no when can see it, and then visit a porn site while you are at work. If the site gets blocked, then you are being monitored. If it doesn't get blocked and if your supervisor either (a) fires you because of it or (b) talks to you about it, chances are, you were being monitored. – user2719875 Jul 21 '14 at 6:55
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    I would just assume that you are being monitored. It is the companies network, the companies computer, and ultimately you belong to the company as well. Just as they might guard the warehouse, so they may guard you as well to make sure you are not putting them at risk. – Bill Leeper Jul 21 '14 at 13:56
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    This question is far too broad to be answered effectively right now. The answer to your questions are "sometimes", "it depends", and "it depends." – enderland Jul 21 '14 at 18:45
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How would I be able to find out if my company uses this type of software?

If you're being monitored, it may or may not be possible to detect that it's happening. It depends on how it's being done. For example, if you go to http://myhttp.info/, you'll see the full HTTP headers received by the server. I know for a fact that there's a web filter/monitor between my work PC and the internet - but there's no indication from those headers that it exists. Other filters may include an indicator that the traffic passed through them. The only way to know for certain if you are monitored is to ask - assuming you trust that you're getting a truthful answer.

How should I adjust my behavior when using work computers if I know I am being monitored?

Don't engage in any activity that would have negative repercussions if your employer discovered it. Assume that anything you write and post to a website, or request and read from a website, is being read by someone else. Don't engage in any outside/personal business, be cautious with logging into any remote system, etc. Don't get involved in flamewars, political/religious arguments, or any other "heated" discussion.

Perhaps the question you need to ask yourself is why you're so concerned about the company monitoring the usage of their resources on their time?

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    This question is being discussed on Meta Workplace SE as part of our weekly site cleanup of closed questions. As a 3k+ rep user, you have the power to help save this question. Please weigh in if you think you can help. – jmort253 Sep 1 '14 at 23:22
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    The question has been edited in a way that affects your answer; please take a look and update. Normally we wouldn't allow an edit that invalidates existing answers, but this question was probably going to be deleted otherwise. – Monica Cellio Sep 2 '14 at 19:19
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tl;dr

They probably use such software, but it shouldn't matter either way if you only do work-appropriate activities on your computer.

Is Employee Monitoring Software in Common Use?

The term "Employee Monitoring Software" is quite broad, as it can range from a simple website blocklist to recording the user's desktop for later review. Wikipedia has a list of types of employee monitoring software.

I have seen an IT administrator use the remote desktop viewer, but they mentioned that it was rare and used more for troubleshooting than checking employee behavior. On the other hand, the last several places I worked had an internet filter in place to prevent employees from accessing inappropriate sites (social media, gambling, adult content, malware, etc). That filter software would also generate a report of which employees were attempting to access the sites and how frequently they were bumping into the filter.

A lawyer at my previous company mentioned that the internet filtering software was required because if Employee A complained about Employee B looking at adult content on a work computer, the company could be liable for not preventing Employee B from accessing such content. I took that to mean that most large companies in the United States will probably have internet filters in place to avoid similar liability.

It was also understood at all of my previous companies that while no one was constantly reading everyone's emails, the company had mechanisms to look at a specific user's messages if they needed/wanted to do so.

Does Company X Use Monitoring Software?

The places I would check would be:

  1. The employment contract, as there is usually a section about "proper use of company electronic resources" or something like that which mentions what you can and cannot do on the network.
  2. The IT staff, as they are usually the ones who configure and maintain such software. However, they may not be allowed to tell you the specifics of how you are being monitored, depending on the company's policies.
  3. HR, as they are usually the ones to determine how the company's policies should be enforced.

With that said, it may be legal in your area for the employer to monitor you without telling you ahead of time, so there may be no way to know. You probably want to consult a lawyer in your area to see if that is the case.

How should adjust my behavior?

You should be safe if you always follow your company's guidelines. If your company allows you to use their computers for personal business during lunch or after your work is done, then feel free to do so. If your company says that work computers are only for work-related activities and cannot be used for any non-work stuff, then follow that and do your personal activities on your personal computer at home. If you are not sure what your company's policy is or if your planned usage meets that policy, ask your supervisor or ask HR.

If there are no company guidelines, the safest approach would be to only do work-related activities on the work computer so that if the issue comes up later on, you can defend your usage by explaining how those activities are reasonably related to the business. For example, I was asked why I was trying to visit some blogging site at such and such a time. I explained that I was googling an obscure error message while debugging an issue, and most of the google results linked back to a blog post of someone that had gone through the same issue and written up how they had solved the issue. They looked at the site in question, saw that it was what I described, and that was the end of it. Had I not had a valid business reason for trying to visit that site, I imagine that it would have been a bigger issue.

Even if your company does not use any sort of employee monitoring software, there are other ways that the company could find out if an employee has been doing something not related to work on a work computer:

  • Websites can leave all sorts of junk lying around the computer long after the browser is closed. It could be as harmless as cookies/cache/browser history or as harmful as a virus, trojan, or other malware.
  • Other employees, managers, or visitors could glance at an employee's screen as they walk by and notice that something more exciting than excel spreadsheets is going on.
  • A computer might not be performing properly and IT might find non-sanctioned software running on it as they troubleshoot it.

There might be even more ways that inappropriate usage is detected at a particular company, but the point is not to list out everything that can get a user in trouble.

The point is, as keshlam points out in a comment, the only safe approach is to always conduct yourself professionally as if you are always being monitored.

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    The only safe answer is to assume that you may be being monitored, and conduct yourself professionally. Keep your personal business on personal time and hardware and networks, except to the degree Management has explicitly permitted. – keshlam Jul 20 '14 at 15:37
  • It terms of say an adult website. In the states if say a male employee watched adult content, and a female employee walked by, that environment would/might be considered to be hostile. Even if other employee was male it would still be hostile. What that basically means is they have a court case against the company. It used to be normal 40-50 years ago for something like that to go on, it was accepted by society, today its not accepted and should not be accecpted. – Donald Aug 6 '14 at 15:34
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    This question is being discussed on Meta Workplace SE as part of our weekly site cleanup of closed questions. As someone who answered it, you have the power to help save this question. Please weigh in if you think you can help. – jmort253 Sep 1 '14 at 23:23
  • The question has been edited in a way that affects your answer; please take a look and update. Normally we wouldn't allow an edit that invalidates existing answers, but this question was probably going to be deleted otherwise. (Yeah, you probably already know this, but... :-) ) – Monica Cellio Sep 2 '14 at 19:19

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