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Office Porn Still Uncertain

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Sep 23, 2003 12:00 AM PDT    Text size: 
The politics of viewing pornographic content while at work is still fuzzy math, according to San Diego-based Internet management solution provider Websense Inc. With statistics from Jupiter Media Metrix estimating that online pornography revenues in the U.S. will grow from $230 million in 2001 to $400 million by 2006, it could be viewed as a losing battle.

While many corporations struggle to control what their employees do with their downtime online, the cold, hard facts still point to the fact that visiting porn websites and downloading explicit images are still a favorite activity for employees.

According to recent Websense research, 42 percent of peer-to-peer requests, which commonly take place at work due to workplace broadband web access, are for pornography content. More than 70 percent of all Internet porn traffic occurs during the 9-to-5 workday.

"Pornography continues to be a problem in the workplace, because new porn websites pop up every day," Harold Kester, chief technology officer for Websense, told XBiz.

Kester added that while an estimated 78 percent of companies try to block employee access, only certain web filters can effectively block porn.

MSNBC and eMarketer.com recently reported that employees earning between $75,000 to $100,000 annually are twice as likely to download pornography at work than those earning less than $35,000. Whereas one in five men and one in eight women admitted using their work computers as their primary lifeline to access sexual explicit material online.

Additionally, more than half of all requests on search engines are "adult-oriented," says Wordtracker.com. The top three word searches on the Internet are sex, mp3, and hotmail.

Across the Atlantic, many European companies are grappling with the same problem of how to monitor and control employee porn web surfing in different ways.

While employees in the Netherlands are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want on company time unless there is a policy stating otherwise, in Britain, email and net abuse has become a leading reason to fire employees.

British telecommunications company BT Group fired more than 200 staff members over the past year for accessing online porn during work hours, the Register reported.

Ten of those fired employees were reported to police and at least one of them has received a prison sentence, according to BT.

Although BT stands among few corporations that have taken strides to lay down the law when it comes to accessing porn online, many companies are still at the crossroads.

According to recent reports, many U.K employees admit to poor employee awareness when it comes to what is really going on inside those office cubicles. But the issue of employee dismissal involving inappropriate use of the Internet has come back to haunt many corporate legal departments that haven’t set down the law of the Internet beforehand.

Similarly, employees in the Netherlands cannot be dismissed for downloading or viewing porn from their computers unless a policy is written in stone, according to research by People Planet Profit, a Netherlands-based company dedicated to socially responsible behavior.

The European Commission recently made things a little more difficult for employers in the U.K. and other European countries to take a stand against porn.

The European Commission sets standards for mutually ethical behavior on the part of employer and employee and stands in favor of employee privacy when it comes to monitoring of Internet and email usage in the workplace, making it just that much harder to monitor employee Internet habits when a strict code of conduct has not already been set in stone. And even if it has, employers must warn employees when they are about to monitor their Internet use, says the EC.

"The use of new information and communication technologies (ICT) at the workplace has spread rapidly in recent years," stated the EC. "This raises numerous issues for employers, employees, and their representatives, especially in terms of the relationship between workers' privacy and employers' need to control and monitor the use of ICT."

The EC is in the midst of preparing a directive for all European countries on matters pertaining to the relationship between internet/email use at work and respect for workers' privacy.

According to the EC, it will examine the European and national legal framework on privacy at work, data protection, and workplace internet/mail use, and set guidelines and codes of conduct in this area.

Until then, employees are more protected than ever by the law to surf the web at their own discretion.

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