Spying on Employees

Internet Privacy at Small Businesses

Is spying on my employees a good idea? That's a question we were recently asked by a business owner who wanted to review employee emails and track what websites employees were surfing. Here are a few thoughts on internet privacy in the workplace.

It's hard to imagine what the small business world would look like without technology.

Internet Privacy at Small Businesses

Computers, e-mail, and the internet have opened new doors of opportunity for entrepreneurs and given them the ability to do things never before possible in small companies.

But technology has also come with a downside. New opportunities in business have opened the door for abuse, leaving small business owners scrambling for ways to manage their employees' activities in the workplace.

One of the most talked about solutions is spying software that allows employers to monitor employees' internet use and in some cases, even read their e-mails. As you might imagine, spying software has been the source of no small amount of debate in the business community with some saying that this software is an invasion of privacy for employees.

Subsequently, many employers have adopted internet privacy statements informing employees about their company's internet policy as well as the ways technology will be monitored in the workplace.

The question about whether or not to use spying software in your business is a decision you'll need to make for yourself. However, here are some points to consider before you make up your mind either way.

Honesty and openness

If you are going to make use of spying software in your company, the ethical course of action is to inform your employees in advance. If your goal is to eliminate the inappropriate use of e-mail and the internet, advance notice will go a long way toward keeping your employees on the straight and narrow. Covert spying, on the other hand, may severely damage the level of trust that exists between you and your staff. Honesty is always the best policy. Full disclosure regarding the use of spying software is no exception.


It's not unreasonable to limit the amount of time your employees spend on personal e-mails during the workday. In cases of extreme abuse, it may even be necessary to inform your employees that all their e-mails may be monitored. However, a minimum amount of personal e-mailing is generally viewed as acceptable in the workplace, provided they don't interfere with the employees' ability to do their job.

Internet surfing

Internet surfing is a cause for real concern among employers, particularly when it comes to the viewing of pornography or other offensive material. Pornography in any form is inappropriate in the workplace and can even lead to claims of sexual harassment. Make sure to include prohibitions against pornography as well as your policy on internet surfing in general in your company's written internet privacy statement.

Personal data

Personal data is sometimes overlooked as a point of concern by employers. But the existence of personal data on company computers can create several problems for the business. For one thing employees who regularly import personal data from outside the company run the real risk of introducing - and spreading - computer viruses. Additionally, although the effect of storing a single personal file on company memory space is usually negligible, it can have a cumulative effect over time, incurring extra expenses for upgrades, not to mention the cost of time lost when employees work on their personal projects during the workday.

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