Could Your Boss be Watching? Employee Privacy in the Cloud

Posted by on Jul 26, 2013

With social media, work emails, and onsite devices, there are plenty of ways for bosses to keep tabs on employee activity online. Knowing that your boss might be watching your every move on the web should give every employee cause for concern. The legality of employee monitoring is still up in the air and some states have even passed bills that employers from requiring employee social media passwords. But instead of waiting for potential governmental safeguards, employees should protect themselves by proactively adhering to better practices while at work while exclusively storing any sensitive data through a secure cloud service that offers data privacy and user anonymity.

Your Boss Might Be Watching

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Recently, the Chief Information Officers Council released new policy guidelines for online use by federal employees. According to the proposal, the new policy “recognizes employees as responsible individuals who are the key to making government more responsive to citizens. It allows employees to use government office equipment for non-government purposes when such use involves minimal additional expense to the government, is performed on the employee’s non-work time, does not interfere with the mission or operations of a department or agency and does not violate the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.” From online banking to job-hunting, the new guidelines would permit a wide range of acceptable personal Internet use at work. Obviously inappropriate behavior like downloading malware or viewing sexually explicit pages would still be considered unacceptable use. The guidelines state, “Executive branch employees should be provided with a professional supportive work environment. They should be given the tools needed to effectively carry out their assigned responsibilities. Allowing limited personal use of these tools helps enhance the quality of the workplace and helps the government to retain highly qualified and skilled workers.” The same applies in the private sector, where business owners must balance worker freedom with demands for increased productivity.

Employee Monitoring

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Employers monitor online activity for a variety of reasons. One is to help ensure efficiency and proper use of work time. Another important reason for workplace monitoring is to help protect and monitor access to sensitive business data from copyright infringement and leaks. Employers can monitor phone calls on business lines, web activities, and email communication. While these violations of employee privacy are alarming, such monitoring can only go so far. Employers can check email recipients, dates, and subject titles but cannot open emails to examine content. The same applies for work chats using messaging software or services.

Another way employers are monitoring employee activity online is through social media. According to a survey by Harris Interactive, 39% of companies used social networking to help research job applicants. The practice is common among hiring managers, so employees and job seekers should be cautious about what they post as well as how tight their privacy settings are. Through social media visualization tools, bosses can see how employees interact, determining which employees have the most social sway in their networks, and ultimately, unfairly rewarding or penalizing employees for their social media presence. Some legislators are fighting back against this wave of employee monitoring and pressure to reveal social media identities. Recently in Washington, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill that employees from having to give up social media passwords at the workplace or for a job interview. The bill makes Washington, the 5th state in the nation to enact similar protections for employees.

Organizations with Written Social Media Policies

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Secure Solutions for Employees

Instead of waiting around for legal protections that may or may not be passed, employees wanting to keep their social media profiles and online data safe should be cautious about online activity at work. Always stick to the rules for personal surfing while at work and if there are no clear guidelines, stick to those given to federal employees. Don’t check social media on work devices or on monitored networks. And be sure to exclusively store sensitive information on a third party cloud that offers true data privacy and user anonymity. Many cloud services on the market have wide security gaps that leave employee files wide-open to monitoring or even hacking. But for SpiderOak, this private cloud service provider offers the full benefits of cloud storage along with 100% data privacy for workers of all sorts.

As for just how SpiderOak protects user data, the service offers two-factor password authentication and 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Two-factor authentication is just like the process used by some banking services that require a PIN as an extra precaution along with a password. Through SpiderOak, users that select two-factor authentication must submit their private code through SMS as well as an individual encrypted password. Employees can store and sync data with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of user data. And plaintext encryption keys are only stored on the user’s chosen devices, so employees can keep rest easy without worrying about monitoring. SpiderOak’s private cloud services are available on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices, allowing for flexible solutions for employees.

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