Employee Monitoring Is Growing Trend, Study Shows

Employers monitor one of three workers online, a Privacy Foundation study shows.
Employers are keeping an eye on one of every three workers online, and employee monitoring is growing at double the rate of employees' gaining Internet access, according to a recent Privacy Foundation study.

Thirty percent of the U.S. workforce, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates at 140 million, is online. Of that number, 14 million are subject to a fast-growing trend: continuous surveillance. Andrew Schulman, chief researcher of the foundation's workforce surveillance project, calls it a suspicionless search. It isn't based on troubling information concerning a particular employee's behavior, but a general policy that the researchers believe can lead to a more hostile work environment

The study concludes that employee monitoring is growing so quickly because it doesn't cost much to do it. On average, it costs just over $5 per employee to use sweeping monitoring tools. The study notes that phone use, which can pose just as great a threat to the company, goes unmonitored, except in call centers.

Who's buying the monitoring tools? Top clients from the major vendors include American Express, Marriott, the city of Boston, Texaco, 20th Century Fox, and the U.S. General Services Administration.

While not calling for a removal of such filters and hidden observers, the Privacy Foundation is urging that a greater effort be made to notify employees. At a minimum, the group says that a splash screen telling employees they're being monitored should come up each time a computer starts. The foundation would prefer that employees be given the opportunity to review and append logs kept by their employers.

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