Guard your privacy at work

Work is a no-privacy zone. Understand that and you can save yourself embarrassment. Or worse.

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNNMoney.com senior writer

(Money Magazine) -- There are few bright lines dividing your private life from work these days. Who hasn't done something like this?

While on a business trip, you use a company laptop to log on and pay bills, including one to your therapist.

At lunch, you e-mail a friend from your Yahoo account saying that you are thinking of talking to HR about your manager.

You check work e-mails from your computer at home, send off a memo, then click to a couple of job-site listings a colleague mentioned to you.

All of these could be big mistakes. You may think what you're doing is private, but when you do it at work, on company equipment or even on your own computer (if it's connected to a company network), it's not.

Thanks to an ever-growing list of technologies that monitor productivity and ferret out undesirable behavior such as employees leaking company secrets, your employer can learn a lot about you.

Not all companies monitor extensively. But absent a contract or stated policy to the contrary, assume that your employer can log every phone number you call, every keystroke you type and every website you visit on its equipment. And that it can put GPS trackers in company cell phones and cars and check out what you do on your home computer if you're using VPN software to get on the company's network.

And assume that your boss can fire you if he doesn't like what he learns. Maybe that won't be the explicit reason; maybe it will. "You don't know what your company's threshold is," says former HR executive Cynthia Shapiro, author of Corporate Confidential. Either way, in most states you'll have few if any legal protections if you work in the private sector.

The fix

You can't live your life like a character in an Orwell novel. Everyone does some personal things on company time, and who doesn't gripe about the boss once in a while? Most companies aren't likely to turn their high-tech version of I Spy into a nasty game of Gotcha unless you give them a really good reason--or they're really dreadful places to work. Still, if you value your job, make sure your private life doesn't undermine your professional one.

Respond to inappropriate e-mails immediately. If friends send you an offensive joke or photo at work, "a lack of response can be construed as agreement," Shapiro says. So write back quickly on company e-mail letting them know it's inappropriate and not to do it again.

Don't do, say or write anything at work that you don't want your employer to know about. Job hunting, discussing a medical issue or looking for the nearest AA meeting are good examples of what to avoid, even if you're using your personal e-mail account at work or making calls at lunch, says Frederick Lane, author of The Naked Employee: How Technology Is Compromising Workplace Privacy. And if you're really stewed about the boss and eager to undermine him, keep a lid on it. That also goes for outside the office: Blogging about the job may be therapeutic, but if your posts are traced back to you and the company doesn't like what you're saying...

Disconnect from company technology. If you're using your own computer to work remotely, log off the company network once you're done, says Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute. Road warriors: Don't conduct serious personal business on a company laptop. It may feel like you're surgically attached to the damn thing, but it belongs to the firm, and the IT guys can learn what you've done on it.

Sensible step for the slightly paranoid

Guard against the office busybody. Ask for a glare and privacy guard for your computer screen. If you're stepping away from your desk, log off, which will close your files. You'll need a password to reopen them. Clear your browsing history and empty your cache of stored pages.

Avoid faxing or copying personal documents. It's too easy to get distracted and leave a stray paper lying around. Need to make an important call? Take a walk and use your cell phone.

________________________________

More from the Complete Layman's Guide to Cyber Safety:

Defend your computer: Some pretty bad folks are trying to break into your (virtual) home all the time. But you can make it a lot harder for them.

Thwart ID thieves: You can spend big bucks and drive yourself nuts listening to the hype. Or you can take a few sensible precautions.

Keep Your Kids Safe: Your parents worried that you watched too much TV. They never had to deal with IMs and MySpace. Top of page

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
Follow the news that matters to you. Create your own alert to be notified on topics you're interested in.

Or, visit Popular Alerts for suggestions.
Manage alerts | What is this?
Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.
Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.