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Is Online Privacy at Work a Myth?

Is Online Privacy at Work a Myth?

By Tom Musbach, Yahoo! HotJobs

Looking for a job while you're currently employed should not be the only reason to pay attention to your online privacy at work.

Three out of four employers monitor the Internet usage of employees, and just over half of US companies review and retain employee email messages, according to a 2005 survey by the American Management Association.

Big Brother is no fiction.

Employers are allowed to monitor what employees do on workplace computers, and many do not notify workers about the monitoring, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC).  In fact, there are very few laws regulating employee monitoring, and the PRC advises all employees to assume that their workplace activities and communications are being monitored.

Nancy Flynn, the executive director of the ePolicy Institute in Columbus, Ohio, agrees that employees should expect to be monitored, adding they should "comply 100 percent with the employer's computer usage and content policies."

Protecting Your Online Privacy

Flynn also offers the following tips for people concerned about their online privacy in the workplace:

  • Understand that your employer is obligated to retain and archive electronic business records. In workplace lawsuits, email creates the electronic equivalent of DNA evidence.
  • Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by personal email accounts, public IM tools or anonymous blog postings. In many cases, it is possible for an employer to track email messages that are sent via personal email accounts, and IM chatting via some instant messengers can be intercepted on the Web.
  • Recognize that the easiest way to control electronic risk is to control written content.  In other words, watch your language.  That means no obscene, pornographic, sexual, harassing, defamatory, or menacing messages

Tips for Posting Resumes Online

When you post a resume online, you must protect yourself against identity theft and avoid giving strangers access to you and those who are close to you. Never list your Social Security number or names and contact information for your references.

In addition, Flynn urges job seekers to avoid posting the following information in resumes:

  • Business email address and phone number at your current place of employment.
  • Birthdate.
  • Home address. "You don't want to seem elusive, but you want to protect your privacy and identity," Flynn says. Consider using a line like, "Home address available on request."
  • Personal phone number that is shared with others. "Use a cellphone that no one else has access to if you live with your parents, or if there is a chance your kid brother might answer the phone and forget to write down a message," Flynn says.
  • Your blog address.  "Employers are taking time to review prospective employees' personal blogs," she says.  A blog with questionable content, including rants from readers, could turn away potential employers. 

Following the simple guidelines above will keep Big Brother out of your cubicle and keep your online job search free from concerns about identity theft, spam and unwanted access from strangers.

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