Policing Internet Usage

Some general thoughts around how employer’s are portrayed as ‘policing’ internet usage.

We all had a good laugh about the Developer who
outsourced his work to China - great and intriguing story. I for one praise his ingenuity should the story prove to be legitimate - although I have to say as a business owner I’d not be too happy about it.

The Register version is here

One bit that was particularly interesting, and sparked off some conversation, was this bit:


Essentially they’d used the person’s internet traffic history to try and ascertain the user’s working day. This struck me as interesting - and in some respects, untenable.

The way people work has changed significantly - to quote that oft used mantra of Unified Communications - Work is something you
do, not somewhere you go.

So how valid are these Internet statistics? While reading and discussing the above article, I thought it would be interesting to look at my own usage logs from a snapshot point of view - and here’s what I found:

  • Since starting work around 8:30am this morning, I’ve downloaded approximately 750Mb of data, and uploaded about 300Mb.
  • I’ve right now 36 different tabs open, across three different browsers.
  • I’ve live-feeds from BBC News, Facebook, and Twitter on my desktop.
  • My Email, SharePoint etc. are all Internet traversing (as well as Internally)
  • I’m a big users of UC - there’s a fair number of connections for my IM client, including Voice/Video & some sharing going on.

...so if you were to take my Internet traffic in isolation it could look like I just mess about on the Internet all day couldn’t it? If you take what’s in place from the logs in the way they’ve inferred from that article anyway.

Of course that’s not the case though. Just because BBC News is picking up information, as is my Twitter feed, doesn’t mean I’m not active and am not doing stuff - it’s just the way I’ve learned to work now; as have a lot of other people too - maybe more so in my profession than others? That’s open for debate.

The discussion also vaguely reminded me of this article that popped up on my stream recently:

Why programmers work at night

Some very valid points in there. My day job has changed significantly over the last two years, and I find that I’m doing less detailed scripting/coding work than I use to.....but when I do have to do it, I very much do it at night, when the day distractions are gone.

People’s work patterns are changing. How they use the Internet is changing. The idea that you can track whether somebody is skiving off their duties or not isn’t really credible anymore. It also raises a more social question - is blocking Internet usage a good idea? Personally I can’t remember the last time I worked for a company or client that had such interfering policies.

Just for clarity on that last point - I’m not suggesting that not blocking applies to all business; some business absolutely need it for compliance for example. I’m talking general desktop access.

I’m also reminded of a Unified Comms Business Seminar I went to a few years ago. There were numerous questions asked of the audience that were answered by pressing on a keypad - and one pair of questions stuck out. Firstly, they weren’t asked sequentially, they were at distinct ends of the seminar. The questions were something like this (again, bear in mind the separation of the questions):

Question 1
Who here has issues recruiting and keeping graduate employees?

Question 2
Who’s organisations block access to social media & news sites during the day?

What struck me at the time was the correlation between the people answering yes to both of these questions - it was over 80% if memory services. For clarity about 25% of the audience answered positively to the first one, and about 80% of those 25% confirmed that they controlled their Internet usage through strict policy. Interesting statistics I thought?

Most of the companies I’ve worked for over the last 4/5 years have an open trust relationship with their users and Internet usage, and I applaud that, it works. A few environments - typically Public Sector - may block things like Social Sites (Facebook/Twitter) etc. for during break periods for example however even that seems diminishing as people start to realise social isn’t just about posting pictures of cats.

I also question the validity of technical warfare against your user population - you’re almost inviting them to break your governance aren’t you? Certainly in my industry (a technical one) trying to block websites or usage can be like nailing jelly to a tree - ultimately pointless given that chances are the technical community you’re trying to police will know more about the technology than the police themselves.

Interesting times, and an interesting subject - I await the barrage of “your (sic) so wrong’ type emails - maybe I’ll learn something from them? Like how choosing “your” instead of “you’re” affects your credibility as a writer.
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