You Are Being Watched–Stay Off The Internet At Work


There I was, a fresh-faced, newly graduated worker at one of the largest insurance companies in the country. I was finally able to wear a dress shirt and tie, something I wanted to do since graduating from college.

Within the first six months, I made a huge mistake–unknowingly. Facebook was still new, I was one of the first people to create an account when it became available to my school (Facebook was a university-exclusive network before it was open to employers and the public). I was close to reaching the friend limit on there. And that was close to a decade ago. It was my number one communication channel. So, I looked at it as another tool to speak to friends and family during the day, just as many used AOL/Yahoo messenger or email at the time.

One day, a friend messaged me while I was at work and asked for a mutual friend’s business phone number. “Do you have his contact number?” I sent it.

From then on I was monitored. There was a weird eye-ball thing blinking in the bottom menu bar on my computer. I knew something was up.

One day, I was called to the company’s compliance and investigations office. I didn’t understand why, but I had a clue because my computer was acting weird.

In the meeting, two representatives pulled out a huge stack of paper from manilla folders. The papers were screenshots of messages I’d sent over a 15-day time span. I was afraid that I would be fired for discussing lunch or talking to friends about picking me up from work, but I wasn’t. Apparently, a quality and assurance person caught a screenshot of my friend asking for a “contact number” and believed that I could be compromising confidential information, asking for a “contract number.” Who does that though? Surely, some people do, but it was an eye-opener. I did feel violated. Conversations read by those in the company were very intimate and private, between family and friends.

It taught me a valuable lesson. You have few privacy rights while using other people’s property, this includes electronic equipment or technology as email. Your email account is not your personal property. Your work computer is not your property. You signed away your rights when you signed your new-hire paperwork.

The best advice I give those that have family concerns or have to handle private issues during the workday is to keep a personal computer or tablet and use a mifi. You own your device and the internet you are using.

This is the best way of keeping the lines drawn solid, as long as you are not doing company business on your personal computer and email. Some employers may not permit this practice, so it’s best to ask management or your HR representative. It is true. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Thank you for reading.