Friday, November 20, 2009

Monitoring Internet Usage

This is part of a series of reprints from my classes. Once the class is over, I will lose these if I don't save them elsewhere. I've decided to post them here as they may be of some interest. This is from my Introduction to Information Systems class, which I was too lazy to test out of.

I'm not against monitoring internet usage in the workplace. I am against ham-handed management of people's communication. Often I find that this argument is oversimplified: You're at work to work, and you can't possibly be working if you're online on an outside instant messenger or checking your email. This argument ignores all other factors, such as lengthened work-weeks and jobs where productivity is held at a higher value. I think that a situational approach and proper management are required, no monitoring technology can replace these.

This boils down to metrics: Is someone's productivity and worth to an organization measured in how much time they spend online? I posit that it is not. You are not paid to not use the Internet, you're paid to perform certain tasks. Depending on the type of tasks and the expectations of your employer, this may preclude using the Internet, but it likely does not. Instead we should judge employees based on their ability to get their job done, only when they fall short of that should we question how they use their time.

Work/life balance is another issue to consider. When employers ask increasingly more time out of their workers’ lives they should expect a compulsion to bring the home life back into the mix to find a better balance. This is especially true when it comes to IM where that communication can be vital to maintaining healthy home relationships. It can also be said that the workplace continually creeps into home life. How is IM unacceptable at work when BlackBerries are required to be on at home? Again, this is about balance and it will vary individually. The employee who works minimal hours has less claim to this than the one who works dozens of hours overtime and some employees allow their home lives to affect their work. Managers should deal with these employees individually and realize that their Internet usage may not be a particularly useful metric to fixing the problem.

Lastly, I will side with employers from a Human Resources perspective. I think this is where monitoring, and even filtering, is important. Employees should know they are being monitored and they should have a few clear usage guidelines for the Internet. It may be acceptable to communicate with your family and friends, but not everything is acceptable to do from work. Companies need to take a zero tolerance stance on pornography, discriminatory practices (take for instance the Human Rights Watch worker that was recently found to post on Nazi bulletin boards), harassment, industry secrets, etc.. Such offenses should be taken extremely seriously and should be actively monitored. Employees that cross the line should be dealt with immediately. Policies like this should be clearly stated, though.

Schools are somewhat similar. I think there, since you’re likely not dealing with adults, you should be a little more proactive in monitoring and stopping abuse of technology. I see most of this as twenty first century note passing. Other content should be filtered, though pretty much any filter can be broken. This is still a situation where filtering and monitoring will not take the place of parenting and teaching. If a child is struggling you might look at abuse of technology as a contributing factor, but it is dangerous to assume that it is the definitive factor and even more dangerous to act on such an assumption without considering how it may effect the child.

With parenting, I think that young children should be monitored closely. This isn’t to say that I’m afraid of what they might see or who they might talk to. It is that they are far more likely not to understand, to take things wrong, and to make poor assumptions about what they’re seeing. I don’t want my child reading a hate website unattended, lest they believe such foolishness is true. I don’t want them to use social networking sites unattended, more because of cruelty like that of the Lori Drew case than worry over someone appearing on To Catch a Predator. The younger the child the more help they need with interpreting the situation Eventually they grow older at which time I would scale back monitoring only to avoid more serious problems such as lawsuits over infringement. Though such things may be a little easier to block than to monitor.

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