Why 2018 Has Been a Landmark Data Privacy Year

Research reveals how Americans feel about digital activity monitoring in the workplace and steps public and private sector organizations can take to gain the support of employees and to avoid violating their privacy.

Data.Privacy

If you ask the folks at security software maker Dtex, May, June and July 2018 may go down as three of the most significant months in the history of data privacy.

Case in point:

  • GDPR entered enforcement mode on May 25.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before searching individuals’ cellphone location data.
  • California passed a landmark privacy law.
  • Verizon and AT&T pledged to stop selling mobile customer location data to third-party data brokers.

The data-privacy debate impacts consumers and employees. One side calls for absolute regard for privacy; another set of voices says that “consent” gives companies carte blanche to do what they please with data their users “voluntarily” provide. There is a group asserting that we should all be open to a middle-ground solution.

Why Employees Are Enabling More Freedom for Employees

Despite having legal authority to track every move employees make during the course of the workday, many employers are choosing to allow their workers more freedom and to reduce monitoring.

Often caught in the center are some of the hardest-working people in the IT industry today: security professionals. They are responsible for defending their organizations against non-stop attacks, human errors, data breaches, compliance violations and even cyber weapons that can cause physical damage.

Dtex Systems CEO Christy Wyatt pointed out to eWEEK that "the world has lost its tolerance for deceptive data practices, aggressive surveillance and privacy invasions. It’s also become more lawless. Edward Snowden, the insider who sabotaged Tesla, and the daily litany of ransomware and phishing attacks are all stark reminders of this reality."

To help the security professionals of the world find middle ground, Wyatt and Dtex commissioned a recent survey with Harris Poll. The results reveal how Americans feel about digital activity monitoring in the workplace and steps public and private sector organizations can take to gain the support of employees and to avoid violating their privacy.

Here are some data points from the research:

Data Point No. 1: Employers, you can monitor user behaviors and activities.

Employers simply need to make sure to focus activities on data breach and security incident prevention. According to the Harris Poll, 45 percent of Americans believe it is at least sometimes acceptable for employers to monitor employees’ digital activities to protect against security threats and data breaches.

Data Point No. 2: Your employees are on your side.

They just want you to let them know about user behavior and monitoring activities. According to the poll, 64 percent of Americans believe that employers have the right to monitor employees’ digital activities on personal or work-issued devices used to conduct work for security purposes, as long as they are transparent about it and let employees know up front that it is taking place.

Data Point No. 3: BYOD (bring your own device) is always a factor.

Employees may not resist policies and regulations requiring you to monitor how they use personal devices for work-related activities as long as you are transparent. According to the poll, 77 percent of employed Americans would be less concerned with their employer monitoring their digital activity on personal or work-issued devices they use to conduct work, as long as they are transparent about it and let them know up front.

Data Point No. 4: Let employees know up front what you’re doing.

According to the poll, 71 percent of Americans would not accept a job with an employer that monitors its employees’ digital activities on work-issued or personal devices they use to conduct work without letting employees know about monitoring up front.

Data Point No. 5: Are your employee retention rates high or low?

According to the poll, 70 percent of employed Americans would consider leaving an employer if they found out that the employer was monitoring their digital activities on personal or work-issued devices they use to conduct work without telling them up front.

Data Point No. 6: Are you hunting people or threats?

Digital activity-monitoring technologies provide insights ranging from deeply granular to high level. In situations where surveillance is required, you may need to understand exactly who users are and know every keystroke they tap. In environments where trust is valued, the ability to understand when a threat might be in play before looking at an individual’s behavior may be a better approach. According to the data, 62 percent of employed Americans would be comfortable with their employer monitoring their digital activities taking place on work-issued devices if it was for security purposes and the activity data was anonymized (i.e., the employer would only look at it if suspicious or threatening behaviors were detected). Thirty-six percent of employed Americans feel the same about employer monitoring on personal devices.

About the Survey: This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by the Harris Poll on behalf of Dtex Systems from June 14 to 18, 2018 among 2,024 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among whom 833 are employed full-time. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

You can read more about the survey here.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...