Need for Content Filtering at Work?

Monday, December 3, 2012, 4:50 PM


home office

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

But I have also 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: Most employees have admitted to spending at least 2-3 hours per day for personal internet use.

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

Do we really want to pay employees to work 40 hours a week if they are really only working for 25 hours and then spending the rest of the time 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. That's an extreme example, but using some type of Internet protection is easily justified by the obvious financial benefit of controlling time spent online and what employees are accessing. 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," and didn't block any content. Instead they showed their organization that their Internet traffic was being 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 the full 8 hours, not 5 1/2 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% 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 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.

A combination of monitoring frivolous and time-wasting Internet traffic and 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 workplace.

I work for ContentWatch and all opinions expressed here are my own.