Not your computer or time

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

We all worry about strangers getting their grubby paws on our personal online stuff, like banking details and our favourite porn sites, but what about keeping our private bits private when it comes to those a little closer to home?

I’ve seen a bit of grumbling lately — both online and in the real world — about employers banning their staff from visiting certain websites. Particularly Trade Me.

No surprise there I suppose, after all, Trade Me is the site most Kiwis visit on a daily basis and employers don’t want their staff buying and selling their online goodies while they are on the clock.

I don’t really understand why so many people get indignant at an employer’s suggestion that they don’t want their staff surfing the net for private business during work time.

Would those same people think it was okay to plant themselves in front of the telly to watch the afternoon soaps when they should be working? Or that it’s acceptable to pop out to the shops for an hour or two on their employer’s time to do the shopping? Well, okay, maybe some of them would (in fact I know one or two who do) but I’m pretty sure most wouldn’t.

I think it’s safe to say that most employers are okay with their staff checking their e-mail or even perhaps putting in a bid or two on Trade Me during down time and I also think it’s pretty safe to say it happens in most offices. However, there are also those who abuse the privilege.

I’ve seen a similar debate online concerning the privacy of e-mails sent to an address provided by an employer. One Trade Me user-was more than slightly peeved at her boss reading her e-mails but you know what? It’s not your e-mail connection, it’s not your computer and it’s not your time. It’s also fairly standard for employers to have an internet and e-mail policy that sets out the rules and expectations.

If I have anything coming to me via e-mail that is for my eyes only, I have it sent to my own e-mail address. The one that I pay for, and that I access on my own computer on my own time.

I’m not saying I never get personal e-mails at work, or that I’ve never surfed the net at the office. However, I’m not going to get bent out of shape if my boss waves a big stick at me and says “stop it”.

I’m not particularly paranoid (I’ll even ignore the suggestion from a friend that the reason I had such a bad reaction to my company-supplied flu vaccination was that my employer, The Southland Times, really had me injected me with a GPS tracking system). However, if I wanted to take part in an e-mail conversation that I don’t want my employer to know about, I certainly wouldn’t be using my work address.

And if I wanted to have a truly private conversation, I wouldn’t be using e-mail at all.

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