Need for Content Filtering at work?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011, 9:34 AM


I have heard dozens of opinions about the need, or lack thereof, for content filtering in the work place. I have heard the side of, "We are all adults here," and "We expect our employees to exercise restraint while in the work place." I have actually talked to company CEO's that have said, "As long as they have their office door closed we don't care what they do on the Internet."

I have heard the contrasting opinions too. I have heard employers say things such as, "While employees are on the clock we only want them to access the content and websites that we approve," and "Because the employee is using company paid services and hardware to access Internet content, we will control, monitor and limit its usage." There are many organizations that choose to fully block access to any website or content that is not specific to an employee's job functions.

When considering the need for content filtering in the work place, here are some facts to consider.

Fact 1: While numbers vary based on the occupation and computer availability, most employees have admitted to spending at least 2-3 hours per day for personal internet use.


  • During the holidays, average employees spend over 10 hours a week shopping on the Internet
  • International Data Corp. estimates that 30% to 40% of employee Internet use isn't work related
  • According to Nielsen/Net Ratings, 92% of online stock trading occurs from the workplace during work hours
  • 46% of online holiday shopping takes place at work
  • Of 13 billion URLs used by businesses in the first quarter of 2010, 6.8% of all business Internet (Internet) traffic goes to Facebook

Do we really want to pay employees to work 40 hours a week if they are only working 25 and the rest of the time they are surfing Facebook or emailing their friends? Do we really want to pay employees to shop for Christmas presents, or do online trading instead of their job responsibilities? Let's think about that rationally. We could theoretically "lay off" 25% of the work force, implement some Internet controls, and get the same amount of work done.  I know that's extreme, but it seems like the obvious financial benefit of controlling time spent online and what employees are accessing easily justifies some type of Internet protection. As an employer it is easy to forget that the Internet is a tool to help our organizations be more effective, not an "employee right" to communicate or be entertained.

I recently helped an organization implement a content filtering solution on their computers. They configured the solution to "monitor only." This organization selected to not block any content, but instead showed their organization that their Internet traffic was monitored and that they could see what was being accessed. After a 2 week period company productivity increased by 30%.

Even if you are not concerned about the type of content that your users are viewing, you should be concerned about the productivity of your employees. We don't pay for an internet connection so employees can "stay in touch" or "buy their family nice Christmas gifts". We pay employees to work for our organization for 8 hours," not 5 ½ while surfing the web."

Fact 2: 20% of employees admit to daily viewing of pornography while at work.


  • The average cost of a sexual harassment case filed against a company in the United States is $275,000.
  • The latest Nielsen survey on porn at work shows that 21 million Americans accessed pornography from their work computers in March 2011. That's 29 percent of the total workforce.
  • Pornography makes up 37% of the total content on the Internet

I spent some time looking for sexual harassment lawsuits that were filed based on an employee being exposed to pornography by another employee. I found some interesting data. First, I was unable to find a case where the company was "NOT" found at fault.

Think about it from a pure business sense. Is your organization willing to take the risk of a lawsuit, just so you can "treat everyone like a grown up?"

Even if you don't have a moral issue with pornography, the courts will still expect you to pay the fees for the sexual harassment case.

 It seems like a combination of monitoring frivolous and time wasting Internet traffic, combined with blocking the content we absolutely do not want is the perfect middle ground to managing employee Internet usage. But in the end it still requires content filtering for the work place.

What do you think?