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Ay, Caramba!

More companies are monitoring and blocking employee access to inappropriate Internet sites. That may keep accidental tourists safe, but dedicated slackers find lots of creative ways around such controls.

A recent survey from the American Management
Association found that over the past five
years the number of companies that monitor
employee Internet use has risen 13 percent. More
than three-fourths of employers now track
employee Web use to some degree, and dozens
of software companies offer programs to monitor
or restrict Web access.

But new research from Jeffrey Johnson and Kenneth Chalmers of Utah State University highlights the difficulties in determining whether Internet abuse is a problem. They looked at the computer logs for a multinational medical-device maker with more than 500 Internet users and found that while some employees did visit 25 categories of Websites that are almost certainly inappropriate (everything from gambling sites to those with “gruesome content”), in many cases a similar pattern emerged: most employees who visited such sites did so only a few times (in some cases, potentially by accident); a few visited often enough to raise some concern; and one or two seemed to spend so much time on those sites that management intervention was likely needed.

The researchers point out that site-blocking software may not be enough; in one case, an employee with a penchant for pornography simply switched to Spanish sites once sites in English were blocked (most such software uses keywords to determine which sites to prohibit). Johnson and Chalmers say that while studying Internet-usage logs provides an accurate window into Internet abuse, more work is needed to gauge the true effect on productivity and
to develop effective corporate policies.

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