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Grow Your Business Technology

7 Ways Your Work Tech Is Betraying Your Privacy

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Have you ever wondered if your boss can see what you're doing on your computer all day? The answer is yes – and you might be surprised by what your supervisors can see.

Your work computer is not as private as you think it is, and with the help of technology like firewalls and monitoring software, your boss can see every file you access, every website you browse and even every word you type. Although most companies access this information only if they already suspect you're up to no good, it's safe to assume you're being monitored on some level.

If you think you can get away with goofing off at work by deleting some files and clearing your browser history, think again. Here are seven ways your work computer is betraying you:

1. Your emails aren't as private as you think.

"Many companies archive all emails indefinitely. Employees may not realize this. Organizations might search their mail archive for various reasons, such as discovery related to a court case. A government agency may conduct searches pursuant to a public records request by a newspaper. Emails unrelated to the request might come up in the search, including personal emails." – Beth McIntire, IT manager, North Carolina State Bar [See related story: 15 Ways to Make Your Emails More Professional]

2. Clearing your browser history won't help you.

"An employer can easily monitor and report on an employee's internet usage because all the outgoing network traffic flows through a router or firewall that provides that capability. For example, when you are on-site in the office, your computer is connected to the local area network (LAN). For reasons of security, there's a device that sits between the company LAN and the public internet – a firewall. It allows network traffic to websites outbound, and carefully controls and limits inbound network access." – Timothy Platt, vice president of IT business services, Virtual Operations 

3. Your phone isn't private, either.

"Most companies have an internet filter of some kind installed. These devices, such as Barracuda Web Filter appliance, can track all internet activity from every computer [or] device on the network, including your mobile phone that you connect to the office Wi-Fi." – Peter Davis, owner, 311 Media

4. Remote workers, beware: Your location is visible.

"Many large IT providers like IBM offer affordable mobile management products like MaaS360 that enable employers to strictly control portable devices. Employers can remotely erase lost employee devices used to access company information as well as control usage and access, as well as remotely install and remove software. Again, on company-owned devices, there's not much argument, but employee mobile device usage policies can be used to enforce appropriate use policies and end-of-employment data removal policies on employee-owned devices as well. This is critical because BYOD has become so pervasive in today's business environment and mobile devices are so frequently stolen or lost. In cases like these, we can reach out and scrub information from those devices or immediately cut off access to company resources.

"Of course, sometimes there are false alarms that can be easily resolved with remote tracking features in most mobile management programs. A client called our support desk one day to report a stolen notebook PC, and using the GPS tracking feature of MaaS360, we were able to locate the notebook on a counter at the other end of the building where an employee had mislaid it." – Jeff Hoffman, president, ACT Network Solutions

5. Employers can track every word you type.

"Numerous applications exist for employers to install on employees' computers that are essentially hacking programs. The vendors and employers consider them ethical hacking tools when used legally. For example, these programs can often protect against a rogue employee emailing out a list of credit cards or Social Security numbers. These programs often upload activity in real time to a cloud console for review by the employer, and can include items like browsing history, screenshots taken every X minutes whenever an Excel or Word doc is open, keystrokes entered and screenshots of emails when opened, just to name a few." – Bob Herman, co-founder and president, IT Tropolis

6.  Your productivity could be monitored.

"We have employees all over the world. Unfortunately, after a few negative experiences, we searched for a solution to track the actions our employees take while logged in during working hours. We now require all out-of-office staff to use TimeDoctor.com. We track screenshots, time per project, time per software used, webcam shots and metrics of productivity. In the event of 'low productivity,' for example, an email is sent out to our team leader. Of course, the workers are acutely aware of the software, and our productivity has greatly increased since implementing it three months ago. Also, some workers are unwilling to use tracking software, and that is fine by me. I feel it helps to weed out unscrupulous workers." – Brad M. Shaw, president and CEO, Dallas Web Design

7. Every file you access is visible.

"Working from a server? We know every file you've pulled and put on the server, and when. There are many more ways, but clients always ask me, 'Can my boss see what I'm doing?' and the answer is always yes." – Justin Esgar, CEO and president, Virtua Computers

Additional reporting by Brittney Helmrich

Andreas Rivera

Andreas Rivera graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Mass Communication and is now a staff writer for Business.com and Business News Daily. His background in journalism brings a critical eye to his reviews and features, helping business leaders make the best decisions for their companies.