Survey: Nobody Really Cares that Big Brother Is Watching

By Deborah Perelman  |  Posted 01-24-2007
Despite employer policies, threats and monitoring, the vast majority of workers still use company technology for personal use, according to a survey commissioned by Lawyers.com, released Jan. 24.

Though nearly one-half (45 percent) of respondents reported that they been explicitly informed by superiors that their technology usage at work is monitored, most still use it for personal tasks, the survey found.

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Of the adult U.S. office workers surveyed, 69 percent said they use the Internet for non-work purposes while at work; 69 percent said they make and receive personal phone calls on their work telephones; and 55 percent said they send or receive personal e-mails on work e-mail accounts.

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed, 73 percent, reported that they are as likely or more likely to use the Internet at work for personal reasons than they were two years ago, and 68 percent reported the same in regard to personal e-mail.

According to the survey results, younger workers were more likely to make information about their private lives available online, opening themselves up to unintended exposure in front of employers. Of the 18- to 34-year-old workers surveyed, 71 percent maintained some sort of personal Web site, blog or personal networking account, 52 percent had MySpace or Facebook profiles, and 13 percent currently had online dating accounts.

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Younger workers were also the most likely to use their employers' technology for personal reasons. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) reported checking personal e-mail accounts during work (compared to 61 percent of the total surveyed), and 77 percent said they used their Internet access at work for personal reasons (compared to 69 percent of office workers overall).

Workers ought to be more aware, lawyers warn, that their bosses might be reading their work e-mails, following their Internet trails and plugging their names into search engines.

"It's not a mystery to most employees that their bosses may be reading their work e-mails or checking out the Web sites they visit on work computers, yet employees apparently are more willing than ever to ignore that potential scrutiny and engage in risky work behavior," said attorney Alan Kopit, a legal editor for Lawyers.com, of Martindale-Hubbell, a division of Reed-Elsevier.

"Using employers' technology for non-work purposes can be the same as stealing in some instances, and may be grounds for termination. Employees should have no expectation of privacy at work, and are [well-advised] to learn and abide by their offices' policies on such matters."

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