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Tabush Group's Cloud & Managed IT Blog

Internet Filtering at the Workplace

The Internet is probably the most significant invention in the last fifty years. It's hard to believe that only 20 years ago, the Internet as we know it didn't exist. Most office desks had computers, but they were for internal applications only. Today, we all know how much that has changed.

But just because every business needs the Internet to function, and the access is limited only to the speed of your connection, should companies allow their employees unrestricted Internet access from their office computers, or should it be limited to business use only?

As a service provider who has worked with over 250 small and mid-sized businesses over the years, I've heard pretty good arguments for both sides.

One can say that filtering (and monitoring) Internet use to corporate-approved sites is a necessity. It prevents users from wasting time by using the Internet for non-business activities, so they can focus on their job. The Internet is a dangerous place, and by limiting users' access only to pre-approved sites and services, the risk of malware infections goes way down. The office computers are there for business use, plain and simple. Furthermore, even supposedly 'safe' activities can cause problems, and headaches to providers like ourselves; during events like the World Cup or March Madness, too many users watching live video streams can easily clog a company's Internet connection, preventing other 'real business' from functioning properly.

On the flip side, most of today's office workers have jobs which are not simply repetitive task based ones, and require regular Internet research. Designers and creative professionals get ideas from random sites, sales people need to research prospective customers, engineers research solutions to problems, and just about anything that anyone needs to learn can be found on YouTube. Of course there are still certain jobs which do not require any of this , such as call center agents, receptionists , etc. Furthermore, many companies are OK with their users spending a few minutes doing personal tasks at work, especially as the employees typically do work when they're out of the office (credit the smartphone with that).

Several times we have been asked to install filtering and monitoring systems for our clients. Typically, a few months after the system is installed we received dozens of calls to adjust the filters, either allowing specific sites company-wide or allowing certain users unfiltered access. These systems often cause more problems than they solve and are sometimes disconnected within 24 months.

With the advent of smartphones, restricting Internet access will not prevent staff from wasting time. Unless you also block cell phone service (which I know is possible, but believe is illegal) they can use their phone to watch videos, scan Facebook, etc. For hundreds of years employees have been finding ways to waste time at work, and they will continue to do so.

This is not to say that Internet filtering (and overall limiting of allowed computer use) has no place in businesses and other organizations. Certain companies are under strict regulations, such as those from FINRA or the SEC, and must either log all email and IM activity, or block them completely. Any school which receives E-Rate funds towards their Internet connection is required to restrict access to 'inappropriate' content, and many businesses, small and large, have successfully implemented filtering systems.

Every company must carefully evaluate its Internet access policy, the needs of its users, and it's culture first. Then, implement the right system to fit their needs. 

Topics: Managed IT