written by: Finn Orfano•edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 3/18/2011
Do you really think that what you do online with your work computer is private? Your boss or IT supervisor could be monitoring every website visited by company computers, and your careless web browsing just might get you fired.
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If you think computer privacy in a workplace really exists, then ask your system administrator if there is anything they can’t access. You might not be able to get into your co-worker’s email or see what files your boss has stored on the company server, but your network administrators sure can. They can read your e-mail too. This is not meant to scare you, but simply to put things up front in regard to the power that administrators have over computers and servers within a network. How else is that person supposed to maintain all the computers without full access?
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Who Owns the Computer?
Just because a computer sits at your desk and is only used by you does not make it your computer. That computer is a tool owned by your employer, just like your desk or chair or even a company vehicle. I doubt your boss would let you rip out the back seat of your company car to install a bunch of 15" subwoofers and amplifiers, so why do you think your IT department would let you install games or add hardware that you brought from home?
Since employees often forget that their work computer is actually a work computer, they use their work e-mail for sites like eBay and PayPal, then complain when their messages are blocked. The worst case I’ve ever seen was a man who stored hundreds of personal photos on his work PC. After he was fired for some unrelated reason, it turned out that some of those photos were nude pictures of his wife. They were found while backing up all his user data to clear it off the computer for the next employee to use.
If you want to keep personal information on your work computer, you run the risk of losing that data in the event that you are fired or dismissed from the job. It’s common policy to disable user accounts immediately upon termination of employment in order to prevent a disgruntled employee from gaining access to the network. In other words, don’t store naked photos of your wife on your work computer unless you want to make some hapless IT worker’s day...or give them nightmares.
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Workplace Web Browsing
You can get in a lot of trouble if you get caught looking around on job websites while on the clock. Even if you scramble to close your browser window when your boss or a co-worker enters the room, it’s still not enough to hide the evidence. Not only does your computer store your web browsing history, but your system administrator could easily have logging enabled on the Internet proxy server to track every single website that employees visit. This type of employee monitoring is not at all uncommon, so keep that in mind the next time you want to look at inappropriate websites while at work. You can clear your browser history all day long and it won’t keep you from being busted if your supervisor decides to monitor employee Internet usage.
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Privacy is a Privilege
Don’t use work computers for sending dirty jokes around to co-workers, because that e-mail might fall in the wrong hands. I once saw a user paste something from their clipboard that happened to be a very racist joke full of N-words. That sort of thing can get you fired or even sued, and it’s not worth the risk. Likewise, don’t use company e-mail to notify ‘all users’ that your kid is selling something for school or that you have a car or home for sale. Don't ask for prayers, either.
If you want your employer to respect your computer privacy in a workplace setting, then you should behave accordingly. Don’t be that worker who types and clicks all day long, but never gets anything done. While it is so tempting to hit up sites like Facebook or Twitter while at work, you could very well be fired for it. This is why many employers have acceptable use policies and block social networks from internal Internet access because they can be such time wasters.
The bottom line here is that workplace computer privacy doesn’t exist. If there is something you need to do on your computer and not have anyone at work find out about it, then wait until you get home. You never know who may be watching.
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Author's personal experience from working over 10 years in IT