Internet Safety III: Internet and the Workplace

Posted September 10, 2008 in Internet Law by

I once worked in a law library where someone was downloading porn and filling up the hard drives of every computer on the library floor with it.  The login identification belonged to a school professor who faced some tough questions until they caught the real culprit—a night janitor who spent his time surfing instead of cleaning with a stolen login.  Can you say “fired?”  Actually there are two valuable lessons here.  First, don’t use a work computer for personal reasons.  Second, don’t be careless with your identification and login information.

Some companies are more lenient than others when it comes to what you do with a work computer, whether it’s at your work station or a laptop you take home or on business trips.  Restrictions vary from company to company and violation of the policies can get you fired.  Knowing that, what can you do if you spend lunch at your desk and have an overwhelming need to play Scrabble on Facebook or shop for that last-minute birthday present on Amazon?

Know your company’s internet and email policy.  Some employers allow employees to surf on their breaks, while some forbid it.  Ignorance of the rule is not going to get you a free pass.  Know what’s expected and follow the rules.  Time limits and types of sites that may be accessed can vary even for companies that do allow some usage.  I’ve worked for companies that only allowed access to the company website and others that gave employees free reign as long as they were surfing on their own time.  You do not have a right of privacy for any of your activity on a work computer, including personal email and internet surfing.

Don’t visit any sites you wouldn’t want your boss catching you on.  This goes beyond the obvious such as porn or gambling sites.  Think twice before visiting political websites or the sites of competitors.  Job searches are also best done at home, especially if you don’t want your boss knowing that you’re thinking of leaving.  No matter how badly you want to check out your account on Monster, don’t do it.  Many companies have the ability to track exactly where employees go online—and routinely do.  So, just because your boss may not be able to see your computer screen from where he’s standing doesn’t mean he can’t see it from his own computer later on.

Don’t disturb others in your office.  That means don’t surf sites that require you to have the sound on.  You might think a YouTube video is hilarious but a coworker might find it offensive.  Avoid problems by not subjecting those around you to noise pollution that could distract them, upset them, or ultimately get you in trouble for some form of harassment.

Keep your private information private.  This goes not only for your computer login but also for any personal logins or credit card information you might use on websites.  You don’t want someone to use your computer login to cover their own nefarious activities.  You also don’t want to leave yourself logged on to a shopping website where someone can take advantage of you when you’ve stepped away for a minute.

In short, respect your company’s rules, abide by them, and be considerate.  If your work doesn’t suffer and coworkers aren’t annoyed, then the chances of someone complaining about your computer use goes way down.

Next time: Internet Safety IV:  I Never Downloaded That!

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