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12/12/2003
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Celebrating The Holidays Online

A Pew study reports that a third of those who bought holiday gifts online last year did so from work.

Over the holidays, E-mail sending holiday greetings abounds, and so does searching for the perfect gift or deal online. Is it any different from all those holiday parties, luncheons, and gift-swapping? Maybe. Especially when it's often in addition to the offline holiday parties, luncheons, and gift-swapping.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported last January that a third of those who bought holiday gifts online last year did so from work. (The Pew Internet & American Life Project, www.pewinternet.org , is a well-regarded nonprofit initiative of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press http://people-press.org/ .) According to its research, the younger the workers, the more likely they would buy holiday gifts from work (42% of those under the age of 30 versus 22% of those over age 50).

Each year, Pearl Software issues its Scrooge Report, documenting the loss of workplace productivity due to increased personal use of the Internet from work over the holidays. Its Echo Global Internet Management Software is used by companies to monitor and block access to certain sites. Pearl CEO David A. Fertell blames holiday shopping for spybots and virus attacks on corporate computers. Fertell believes that blocking unreliable E-commerce sites can help protect networks from security breaches. (Pearl also is the developer of Cyber Snoop, one of the earliest Internet-monitoring apps for home use.)

While other leading Web-monitoring and blocking software companies (such as Websense and CyberControl) don't jump on the holiday cyberabuse bandwagon, there may be something to Pearl's claims.

Seventy-nine of respondents to InformationWeek Research's study reported sending and receiving personal E-mail and instant messages at work. It makes perfect sense that the number and frequency of those communications will increase over the holidays with family-photo attachments, recipe swapping, and well-wishes being shared across the world. And the increase will be felt via your bandwidth. To make matters a bit cheerier, Christmas carols and holiday music files will be downloaded and shared on your network, as will the original footage of "Frosty the Snowman," "The Christmas Story" or "The Grinch That Stole Christmas." Expect your employees to track Santa's progress from the North Pole using nasa.gov www.nasa/gov , to watch the bid prices for their favorite eBay collectible, and to access the HotWire.com and Priceline sites for travel bargains. Snow-flurry screen savers, flash files of Snoopy hiding his holiday bone, and more adware and popups than our network can hold--all are signs of the cyberholidays.

What can and should we be doing about this? Warn your employees that there are some nasty apps out there. Remind them to run a pop-up/adware/spyware remover every day. And make sure they warn you if a sudden avalanche of spam arrives in their work E-mail box. (Although you'll probably know before then, when your system crashes.) Then, sit back with a cup of eggnog and hum "Jingle Bells" under your breath. It's the holidays--enjoy them!

Return to main story, The Privacy Lawyer: Crack The Online Whip

Parry Aftab is a cyberspace lawyer, specializing in online privacy and security law. She can be reached at parry@aftab.com.

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