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How worried should you really be about logging into Netflix on a work laptop?

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Employee monitoring software—that you can expect to install safely on your work computer—lets your workplace see every site you visit, every email you send, and even every personal password you save. Perhaps you have already come to terms with the fact that expectations of privacy have been essentially eradicated. Even then, it’s probably not a good idea to give your employer easy access to every unproductive moment of your day, or every shoddy joke you crack on Slack. Here’s what to know about how most work laptops are monitored and what that means for your privacy as an employee.

You are monitored, otherwise in real time

According to security experts from this wire cutter item, you have to assume yes, you are indeed being monitored on your work laptop. However, they argue that for most of us, the fear of being heavily watched at work is unwarranted.

Chances are, when you received your business laptop, it came with monitoring and security software. JHowever, the extent to which you are monitored, depends on factors such as the size of your business, the resources it devotes to monitoring, and the type of information you process for your job. For example, Wire cutter points out that if you work with health records, financial data, or government contracts, you can count on your employer to carefully monitor what you do.

From G Suite to personal office folders, your employer can see it all

Daily Business News notes that “it is important to remember that a work device is not your property, it belongs to the company”. Assume that anything you do on your work device can be legally logged by your employer and incredibly easy for IT to access.

Browsing history: not private

Be wary of personal activities like browsing social media, side-working, or looking for a new job on your work laptop. Your employer’s access to this online behavior could come back to bite you, Joe Rejeski, CEO and Founder of the avenue X group, tells Glassdoor. “Even if your colleagues are splurging on their work computers, you could be the one being made an example of.”

Google Docs: not private

the Freedom of the Press Foundation explains why you shouldn’t use a company-issued Google Account to store your private data: Namy, administrator with G Suite Enterprise can search for specific phrases in an employee’s emails and documents, and employers can “set up audits to be notified of suspicious behavior and create custom scripts to persist data.”

Send messages to your colleagues: not private

Does this lack of privacy bother you? Be careful when talking about it on Slack. It’s easy to feel like Slack and similar messaging apps are private conversations with your colleagues, but those messages are kept on a server and easily retrieved. Slack “has access to all your chats,” says Trevor Timm in an interview with fast company, “[as well as] any internal communication that you may not want in public,” including private conversations. Wire cutter recommend a third-party application (llike Signal) Then your personal phone for all your parallel conversation needs.

Desktop Folders: You Guess It, Not Private

Again, remember that your work-issued laptop is not your property. Rejeski tells Glass door about a company that went out of business and decided that “securely erasing personal data from work computers wasn’t exactly a priority for management.” The former employees had no idea what happened to their computers or the information stored on them, such as files containing tax returns, family photos and other types of personal data.

What not to do on your work laptop

So what does all this surveillance mean for your laptop habits? Here is a general protocol of what to avoid doing on your professional devices.

  • Do not save personal passwords or store private information in key fobs. Your employer could theoretically access and/or delete them at any time.
  • Do not scroll social networks, watch Netflix, or do anything unproductive that might come back to haunt you.
  • Don’t talk about Slack, or send a message that you wouldn’t want your employer to see.
  • Don’t look for new jobs, since your current employer can see your browsing habits.
  • Don’t work on your side, unless you want HR to report the fact that you work for someone else during working hours.
  • Do not attempt to remove employee monitoring software yourself. It can be a tempting act of resistance, but it will only draw attention to yourself.

Best practices for your work laptop

Here’s what else you can do to minimize the extent of employer surveillance.

  • Shut down your computer after work.
  • Cover your webcam when not in use.
  • To avoid being overheard, here is a piece of advice this Reddit thread: “Buy some shitty headphones with a mic and cut the cable. Plug it into your laptop. You can also get your own headphones with a hardware mute button and leave it muted until you need to speak.
  • Tap frequently to give the impression that you are working.
  • To protect your data and that of your workplace, always make sure you are logged into a secure and password-protected account. Internet connection. Never leave your laptop unattended or wide open in public areas, especially if you are handling sensitive information in your role.

The bottom line

You don’t need to assume that human eyes are on you at all times. However, if your employer needs to find a valid reason to fire you (for example in case of dismissal), he has access to a lot of data on your daily activity which he can look through retroactively. Fortunately, knowing how you’re being watched, you can act on it with the actionable tips above.

In an act of radical transparency, I want to disclose the fact that I checked Twitter about forty times in the time it took me to research and write this article. Yes, on my work laptop. The irony, indeed, sometimes escapes me.


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