Internet misuse plagues workplace

Thanks to the Internet, pornography in the office has become almost as commonplace as coffee, according to a survey released Monday.

Research from Ottawa software company Bajai Inc. and the CATAAlliance reveals more than half of respondents say they’ve seen someone reprimanded or dismissed for inappropriate use of the Internet in the office.

It could be a smutty e-mail joke or a piece of racist humour, but the biggest offender by far is pornography, says Bajai president and CEO Anthony Whitehead. Bajai develops and markets software to filter out pornographic images and text for enterprise-size companies. But that isn’t the market the company first considered. The original market was parents shielding their children from online pornographic material in the home.

“It turns out, after we did our market research, this is a huge issue at work as well,” says Whitehead. “When we’ve done analysis of logs, employers are shocked to find that upwards of 10 per cent of their accesses are going to pornographic Web sites.”

Even more shocking is that half of the 52 CATA members surveyed don’t have any Internet policy for the workplace. Companies without such policies may only have themselves to blame for Internet abuse, says Whitehead. “Having a policy is actually the first step in actually explaining to your employees what the Internet resources are intended to be used for.”

The Internet may be a time-waster, but where it could really hurt a company is if employees express their distaste for office porn through legal action. This, if for no other reason, is why policies must be put in place, says CATA senior advocate of public policy Barry Gander.

“If a company, for example, is sued by an employee because of somebody sending him or her an inappropriate e-mail, then the shareholders ask why there was no Internet policy in place,” says Gander. “There’s no management excuse anymore.”

Time-wasting actually ranks low as a concern for office managers, according to the study. Sixty-two per cent of respondents feel employees should have up to an hour a day for personal surfing.

The government is quite restrictive in its use of the Internet as a leisure pursuit for employees, according to one government employee. But the worst he’s done, he says, is look up jam recipes and occasionally e-mail his children.

John Knops, insurance and risk management officer for the Government of Yukon, says that common sense is really the best indicator of what’s appropriate for viewing at work. The litmus test is really whether you can still go about your work without offending those around you.

“To me, cruising the Internet is like opening up a magazine when you have spare time . . . but society and the business world draws the line at what kind of magazines,” says Knops.

The problem is that, due to its ephemeral nature of its contents, many people don’t consider that the Internet may be a potentially offensive platform, said Whitehead. “Most of the people who (look at pornography) would shun the idea of bringing in a Playboy or Playgirl magazine and pinning up the centerfold. . . . But as soon as it’s online, there’s this mental disconnect.”

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