What Employers Know About Your Online Activity

The boss probably knows more than you realize about what you do on company computers and phones. Here's the scoop.

What Employers Know About Your Online Activity Photo by Stock-Asso / Shutterstock.com

You probably know that employers often examine a job applicant’s online presence. For example, they might read publicly available comments that applicants make on social media accounts.

But such monitoring can continue — and in much greater detail — after you’re hired. And this monitoring is largely unregulated. Money reports:

If you’re using a company computer (or wifi connection), your employer can not only monitor your work email and projects, but they can log your key strokes, including on “private” sites like Facebook or your personal email account. This is also true of company-provided cell phones (employers can even track your whereabouts given your phone’s GPS).

Many workers receive a unique login to access work computers and networks. And employers generally keep a log of each unique user’s activity, GadgTecs.com editor Amna Rizvi tells Money.

Here’s an example of what a log might look like:

[time stamp] open Solitaire
[time stamp] close Solitaire
[time Stamp] Open Firefox
[…] open website ….

So, your employer might know which websites you visit and even how long you spend at each site.

Of course, just because an employer can pull up such details of your activity doesn’t mean it will, or that it will do so routinely.

Why employers snoop

Michael Edelberg, co-founder of the cybersecurity firm Viable Operations/Bespoke Digital Solutions, tells Money that employers might monitor workers for the sake of the company’s own security. In other words, employers might do it to be sure your online activity isn’t inadvertently giving hackers an opening to exploit.

“There could be some intellectual property issues and other confidential information that the company wants to control,” Edelberg says.

Companies might also monitor employees believed to be underperforming or using work hours inappropriately. In such cases, monitoring provides insight into an employee’s behavior, the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse notes.

Yet another reason for monitoring employees is out of concern over “the increasing role that electronic evidence plays in lawsuits and government agency investigations,” the clearinghouse says.

What (little) you can do about employer monitoring

As much as it might feel like an invasion of privacy, most company monitoring of employees is legal — and “a majority” of companies do it, according to the clearinghouse. The nonprofit continues:

“Almost everything you do on your office computer can be monitored. Such monitoring is virtually unregulated. Therefore, unless company policy specifically states otherwise (and even this is not assured), your employer may listen, watch and read most of your workplace communications. Courts often have found that when employees are using an employer’s equipment, their expectation of privacy is limited.”

So, there’s little you can do to stop your employer from watching your every online move.

You can try to educate yourself about an employer’s applicable policies and practices, though. Edelberg told Money he suggests reading the manual you probably received after you were hired.

Beyond that, be mindful of what you do on company computers, phones and other devices and what you do on company networks. Perhaps the only way to be sure your employer doesn’t know about a particular online activity is to avoid doing it while on a company device or network. Better yet, don’t do it while on the clock.

For example, if you must send a personal email while at work, use your own smartphone. You would have to first disable Wi-Fi network access, though, to be sure you’re not transmitting personal info over the company network. Of course, that means you will be using up data, so consider your cell plan.

What’s your take on this news? Sound off below or on Facebook — assuming you’re not on a company device or network, that is.

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