Can Your Employer Monitor Your Personal Computer?
There is no straightforward answer, but we will try to provide the most relevant information as much as possible. Take time to read through the following paragraphs as we are building up to the answer in order to make you understand it fully.
You might have heard of a CEO of a publishing company who fired 25 of his employees after finding out that some of them are bad mouthing the company on Facebook. This CEO’s rant was caught on video, and he can be heard saying that he knew his employees were watching Netflix during work hours. That was fine with him. “Let them throw it up on a projector if they want,” he even added.
He looked at Facebook posts (and probably emails) and that was when he read negative posts about the company. That was not fine with him. The result was a mass dismissal of employees.
This, and other news about employee monitoring, is probably why you are reading this right now, and you are asking, “Can my employer really monitor my personal computer?” The answer can be a Yes or a No.
Yes, They Can
We come to the answer for your main question. But this is only the first part. Yes, your employer can monitor your personal computer when either of these two happens:
Because You Are Connected To The Work Network
Your boss can monitor your personal computer if and when you connect to the work network. This is the same story for your phone, tablet, and any personal device that you connect to your network at work.
This happens because the firewall or monitoring tools that your company may use can be setup between your device and the company’s network. This way, all traffic that goes through the work network, regardless if it’s from a company-owned device or a personal one, can be monitored and archived for future use.
The items enumerated above can be accessed by your employer even when you are using your personal computer or even phone. This includes the IMs to your loved ones, your visit to a job listing website, and the photo of your cat that you posted on Facebook. Yes, your boss can see all that.
Because You Allowed Your Employer To Spy On Your Personal Computer
You might think that only a stupid person can do this. Who would knowingly allow someone else to spy on their computer? Well, most employees who work remotely would have agreed to something like this. Employers can ask their remote employees to download software such as Hubstaff, that can monitor the following:
- Internet and app usage
- Periodic taking of screenshots
- Video/audio surveillance
- Phone usage
- GPS tracking by vehicle
- Location tracking using access badge
With the right software, your boss will know if someone on your team is doing something he or she isn’t supposed to do during logged work hours.
No, They Can’t
This is the second part of your primary question, and read on because we will provide the ultimate solution.
All the (scary) things discussed above are made possible either because you are connected to the work network or your employer had placed a tracking software in your computer. We understand that you find these things scary not necessarily because you have something to hide, but because these things are a manifestation of privacy invasion.
In this modern day, digital privacy has become quite controversial. There’s a mix of opinions regarding it. However, whatever your position on the matter is, protecting your privacy in the internet should be a priority.
Because You Have A VPN
A holistic protection from employers monitoring your personal computer or phone is by using a VPN or Virtual Private Network.
A VPN basically works like a mask – your employer won’t be able to see you so they can’t see what you are doing on your personal computer. Keep in mind though that if you use this tool on a company-owned device, you might get in trouble. At the very least, your boss will suspect that you are doing something unpleasant, and at worst, you can be fired for tampering a company-owned equipment.
If you are going to use a VPN on your personal device, however, then there are no issues because that is basically your right and privilege. So can your employer monitor your personal computer? The answer is No, if you hide behind a VPN.
Why Employer Can Monitor Your Work Computer
If you are using your work computer, then there is no question about it. You are being monitored. Check your company handbook. If it says something like, “The company has the right to monitor employees’ usage of company equipment and network, ” then always assume that you are being monitored even during lunch break.
Business owners make use of employee monitoring software for a number of reasons but the two items below are at the top of the list:
To Track Productivity
With the help of firewalls and spying software, companies can track your internet usage especially those that are questionable such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They didn’t pay you to be on social media during work hours, unless of course you are a social media manager. In which case, you are excused.
Your boss can see pretty much see everything you are doing, including the following:
- The websites you access or your browsing history
- How long you were on that website
- How often you visit a particular site
- The words you type and keystrokes
- Your email
- Instant messaging and other communication
- The files you access
- The application you open
- How long you used the application
As you can see, it is the same as having your boss hovering over your shoulder while you are using your work computer. Of course, employers are not literally on to you every minute of the day, but they can archive these details and they can access and search through it anytime. They have their digital eyes on you, that’s for sure.
To Manage And Protect The Company’s Security
Another major reason why companies make use employee monitoring tools is to keep the company’s sensitive information safe. For example, a lot of companies have been burned by employees sending credit card information of clients to another person in exchange of money. Social security numbers are another sensitive information that are frequently being exploited.
To avoid something like this from happening, companies can use tools that can take a screenshot every few minutes, or they can tag for words so that when you use these words, they will be notified by the software. By tracking their employees, companies think that they are keeping their business safe.
In the United States, a law called Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 prohibits the interception or monitoring of electronic devices. This includes, of course, computer, telephone, and internet usage. Other countries may have the same laws.
The problem with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 is that it provides three exceptions that basically gives business owners the license to monitor their employees.
These exceptions are:
- Businesses are exempt from the Act and can monitor their employees if the purpose is legitimately needed by the company. Purposes can be (1) to monitor customer service, which is why you are warned that your calls to customer service are recorded and monitored; (2) to track productivity which is pretty much every business’ deal; and (3) to prevent harassment and illegal activities as in the case of credit card and social security frauds mentioned above.
- As long as the company owns the system they are monitoring, then there is no problem. This is why you can be monitored even when you are using your personal computer, as long as you are using the company’s network.
- If the employee has given his or her consent to be monitored, then the company can pretty much see whatever it wants.
History of Employee Monitoring
Employee monitoring have been in place for years – 130 years, to be exact. The first ever timesheet was created in 1888 by William Bundy, and it was used to monitor the time in and time out of employees. This is popularly known as Bundy clocks. Does it ring a bell? Bundy clocks were a big hit back then. A lot of businessmen bought the machine, and a number of companies also started selling it. In 1911, the companies selling this equipment merged together and became Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation. Later on, this company became International Business Machines (IBM) Incorporated. Yes, that is the multibillion dollar company that we know today.
In recent years, companies have stepped up the level of employee monitoring. Employee monitoring software and tools were developed and deployed by businesses, small and big alike. Software developers are still on the lookout for more effective employee monitoring tactics, so expect this market to grow in the coming years. Of course, this has everything to do with the digital age and the explosion of internet usage.
Employers Can Monitor Your Personal Computer Only If You Let Them
Hiding your online activities from your employer does not necessarily mean that you are doing something wrong. This is especially true when you are using your own computer, phone, or any gadget. Protecting your privacy is merely an exercise of a human right. Sadly, this right is slowly being ignored into nonexistence.
Protecting your privacy from your employer can be particularly tough, especially since government laws regarding it are very arbitrary. However, you can take matters into your own hands by signing up for a VPN service right now.
A VPN can do more than hide your online activities from your employer, by the way. It can further protect you from spies, hackers, advertisers, and other entities who want to know more of you for questionable reasons.