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Who is monitoring your internet usage?

The problem:

The internet and email have become indispensable tools for business, but many companies are finding employees are using these tools as much or more for personal activities than job- related tasks. If you don’t know what your staff are doing online, you’re putting yourself at risk.

This misuse can have serious implications for your business:

  • Reduced productivity Nielsen Online reported in March 2009: “Two-thirds of the world’s internet population visit social networking or blogging sites.”
  • Security problems Hidden malware and viruses can in- stall themselves on your PC.
  • Legal risks Users downloading inappropriate or offensive material can create legal liabilities for owners.
  • Wasted bandwidth If bandwidth is being taken for inappropriate material, work critical services (such as email or ordering) can be delayed or compromised.
  • Unlicensed software Users downloading software online can create a legal risk.
  • Reputation risk Employees may either knowingly, or without knowing leak confidential information online.

Many business owners have realized that unrestricted use of the internet by their employees has the potential to drain, rather than enhance productivity and, at worst, have consequent legal consequences.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the average employee spends approximately 75 minutes a day using company provided computers for non-business activities. That averages a loss of around $10,000 – $15,000 or more per year, per employee. A company that employs 20 people could lose as much as $300,000 in lost productivity just from internet misuse.

The Solution:

To combat this problem, many more employers are monitoring their employees’ computer usage by tracking email, instant messenger and internet use, or by recording telephone calls and videotaping the workplace. As evidence of this, sales of surveillance equipment and computer monitoring software is steadily increasing. This software can record every keystroke made, take screen shots of selected computers at specific time intervals or examine the images attached to emails looking for inappropriate material.

In addition to this, legal concerns can have a large impact on the business. For example, If an employee uses company email to discriminate against or to harass other employees, the employer can be sued by the victimized employee for allowing it to happen. Similarly, if an employee commits a crime using company equipment, the employer can be held liable for damages or criminal prosecution for allowing it to occur.

Taking charge of how your employees use the internet and reducing or eliminating excessive non-business usage can increase productivity and provide significant cost savings both from better productivity and lower bandwidth costs.

To reduce the risk and minimize non-productive activities, several businesses are using a two-pronged approach:

  • implementing an Internet Acceptable Use Policy (IAUP) and;
  • installing a monitoring system to restrict and police em- ployees’ online activities.

An IAUP is nothing more than a written agreement that sets out the permissible workplace uses of the internet and email. In addition to describing permissible uses, an IAUP should specifically set out prohibited uses, rules of online behavior, and access privileges with penalties for violations of the policy spelled out, including security violations and vandalism of the system.

Monitoring can be achieved relatively inexpensively, however must be carried out in a socially and legally responsible way. Additionally, monitoring won’t generally include Smart-phones and other non-network connected devices (for instance, iPhones). Download limits for these devices must be monitored on an individual basis.

Considerations:

Complaints against the telecommunications industry rose a whopping 54 per cent in the 2008/09 financial year, prompting the industry ombudsman to issue a warning to business and consumers. Releasing the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s annual report, the ombudsman, Deirdre O’Donnell, revealed 230,065 complaints had been lodged by consumers and small business over excess usage or other telecommunications issues.

Billing and payment of telephone and internet services was the main area of concern, however the highest increase in complaints was among mobile phone users (79 per cent rise), internet (57 per cent), landline (40 per cent) and mobile premium services (13 per cent).

There are now a number of 3G handsets available which allow consumers to download high volumes of data quickly. Most carriers offer services to their customers where they can monitor their data usage for both Mobile and traditional telecommunications services, and be alerted if they are approaching their allocated limit, including internet-based usage checks and SMS messages. Many handsets also include data usage meters.

In the end, it comes down to a choice. Where do you draw the line on web misuse? How do you balance individual privacy with the overall good of the business? What is the correct balance between monitoring and blocking?

There is no right answer., and it varies from company to company. There is, perhaps, a right way to go about it and TNS can assist in customizing a solution that fits your business.

Call TNS on 1300 867 867 to discuss how you can reduce excessive internet charges and secure your business.

We welcome your feedback. Send us your likes, dislikes, and requests to help us build a bet- ter newsletter for TNS.

 
 
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