Bosses monitor Internet use - 06/26/03
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Thursday, June 26, 2003

Bosses monitor Internet use

Powerful software helps track employee e-mails, browsing



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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 said.

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 AutoKnowledge.

Gannett News Service contributed to this report. Gary Anglebrandt is a Metro Detroit free-lance writer.

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