Web filtering is possibly the most controversial category of products we review here at PC magazine. No other topic so quickly suggests thoughts of an Orwellian Big Brother or so starkly divides employees and managers. You may consider blocking and monitoring Web access appropriate for children at home or school, but does it have any place at work?
Many companies point to legal liability, productivity, and bandwidth usage as concerns that arise when employees view inappropriate (read: porn) Web sites, shop online incessantly before the holidays, or download and play MP3 files throughout the day. Sexual harassment lawsuits do occur, and it would be hard to argue that someone repeatedly bidding on eBay is being as productive as possible. If Britney Spears is coming through loud and clear but the monthly sales close is bogged down, youve got a problem.
There are, however, two sides to this coin. “There havent been that many lawsuits, productivity is up overall, and bandwidth is cheap,” says Bill Gassman, principal analyst at market research firm Gartner. And many employees wonder whether Web filtering is like taking away pens to prevent idle doodling. Cant you get rid of the offenders some other way and leave us productive employees alone? Privacy and trust issues come up, and though companies do have the right to monitor employees, most are reluctant to enforce procedures that tell their employees “we dont trust you.” Like spying on your spouse, these policies can quickly lead to distrust on all sides.
Given the potential for backlash, a company must contemplate and identify business goals while paying attention to employee concerns. Only then can it create an effective policy for acceptable use. Communicating the policy and the presence of filtering software to employees is also critical. A secret deployment could cause serious repercussions and perhaps a privacy lawsuit from employees when they find out—and they will find out.
Some companies are drawn to Web-filtering solutions by a lack of perceived control, especially in the wake of new regulations like HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, which are meant to protect customer privacy and oversee financial dealings. If you are in this situation, dont just throw technology at the problem: You need to think through policies and avoid letting fear provoke hasty decisions.
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