SOUTHFIELD -- As the Internet becomes an integral part of the
workplace, more businesses have an interest in keeping track of what
their workers are doing on their computers.
These days powerful monitoring software is making it easier for
bosses to know all about their workers' browsing on eBay or fishing
sites and what they say in e-mail and instant messages.
Companies can snoop all they want, said Southfield technology
attorney Michael Khoury, as long as they do not give their employees any
"expectation of privacy."
Khoury, with Raymond & Prokop, P.C., recommends employers state
in their employment policies that company computers and networks belong
to the company, and that the company has the right to know how its
property is used.
More than one-third of U.S. employees with Internet access -- about
14 million people -- have their office e-mail snooped upon by employers,
according to the Privacy Foundation in Denver.
Different software programs monitor different activity. KeyKatcher,
for example, records every letter typed on an employee's computer.
SpectorSoft Corp. in Vero Beach, Fla., has a variety of programs and
features, one which can play back the activity on an employee's computer
as it appears on the screen. Its eBlaster software will send a boss a
copy of every e-mail a worker sends immediately, and an hourly report on
the rest of a worker's computer activities, too.
But it isn't in the interest of most employers to spend time
installing tracking software on every employee's computer, said Stephen
Keating, executive director of the Privacy Foundation,.
"Why have some draconian e-mail policy? Most employers won't go to
that level of detail unless it's for something very sensitive," Keating
He said there is potential for abuse in monitoring Web activity. "An
employer who wanted to target an employee for dismissal could use this
as a pretext for that purpose.
Companies such as SpectorSoft contend that employers need the
software to maintain control over trade secrets and ensure employees are
not wasting time.
Ann Arbor software developer AutoKnowledge Inc. used a SpectorSoft
product last year after a manager at AutoKnowledge noticed a contractor
was producing very little work. Turns out the contractor was working on
a project for another company while billing AutoKnowledge for the time.
"He was working three hours for us and the rest of the day on the
other project every day," said Alex Brar, vice president at
Gannett News Service contributed to this report. Gary
Anglebrandt is a Metro Detroit free-lance writer.