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On The Use of Computer Monitoring Software

In an era of all encompassing surveillance by governments, and a constant threat to user privacy, the subject of computer monitoring may actually be a little controversial. What it refers to in this case, however, is monitoring the activities of a computer user within a private setting. It typically means one of two things. First involves parents monitoring the activities of their children for the purpose of protecting them from materials that may be harmful to their development. Second refers to businesses monitoring the activities of their employees to ensure that they don't waste paid company time for personal activities or otherwise steal company resources.

First off I would like to argue that I don't consider these private monitoring practices to be in any way morally hazardous, and thus I would not put them in the same category as government surveillance or "privacy violations" The simple fact is that if a company employs a person to work on building company value, especially when this is clear from the contract, then the company has a right to hold the employee accountable to this, and monitoring their activities then is one way of doing this.

The only argument that can then be made against computer monitoring isn't a moral one, but a practical one. It's the question of whether companies really achieve greater productivity of their employees by monitoring and punishing them for wrong doings or whether a more conciliatory approach of motivating and inspiring workers while building trust can actually produce better results.

Ideally, the worker will be motivated enough to never waste company time, and demonstrate with their results that they can be trusted. In such ideal cases monitoring may not be necessary, as sufficient amount of trust between an employer and an employee would be built.

However, not every company has or can have such ideal conditions, depending on a lot of factors. Not every company is a young startup consisted of a neat team of enthusiasts and backed by venture funding. And certainly, not every company is Google, Facebook, or others who can afford the luxuries of employing proven experts of high reputation and giving them incredible amounts of leeway. There are many companies which employ qualified individuals for whom it may yet be difficult to establish this kind of complete trust without some form of verification, such as monitoring their activities on company resources.

Besides, even if a company is able to afford and maintain the kind of ideal culture of trust, there isn't necessarily a harm in having a monitoring set up in place that could still catch any eventual deviance.

Ultimately, it is all a matter of preventing business resources from being misused, or in other words, wasted for things that don't contribute to the company's objectives and their bottom line. Employing someone only for that person to end up leeching company resources while contributing only a bare minimum required to maintain employment is, it's fair to say, not what anyone wants to deal with.

Modern computer monitoring software, such as WorkExaminer, is quite advanced. It is able to track time spent in specific programs or on specific web sites while also recording screenshots, key presses, chat logs, emails exchanged, search queries, downloads and so on. It can also control the usage by blocking certain sites and programs from being used. Interestingly, they can also be installed without the user being aware that it's on the computer, albeit working with a company computer the user should probably assume that some form of monitoring may be in place.

So should you use computer monitoring software? It depends on how you wish to proceed in building trust with your employees in your company. You may consider not using monitoring to play in your favor by making the employee feel more appreciated and emotionally induced to justify your trust. Depending on the nature of your business and your company structure this may or may not be a risky proposition.

In a lot of cases, however, it probably makes sense, just in case. I suggest telling the employee that monitoring is set up, but with an assurance that this is just a precaution. The intelligence gathered through monitoring can after all be useful for more than just control. For instance, it may be useful to see the time spent in specific programs or sites in order for the employee to efficiently do the job, not just to catch time spent in programs or sites not related to the job.