Blog Post 1 - Concerned about digital privacy in the workplace?

Print

            Have you ever had concerns about your privacy in the workplace?  Have you ever taken the time to Google to your telephone number, name, or address to see what information is out there about you on the web?  Are you concerned, like many, about the accidental or improper exposure of confidential information by your employer?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, this video series is for you. 

            Individuals define privacy differently depending on the source and culture.  For instance, Merriam-Webster defines privacy as “the quality or state of being apart from company or observation or freedom from unauthorized intrusion” (Merriam-Webster, 2020).  In the digital era, a researcher by the name of James Moor investigated the concept of privacy in the digital age examining individual privacy in terms of being protected from intrusion, interference, and information access from others (Moor, 1997, pp. 4-5).   

            Group privacy is just as important as individual privacy.  Self-determined groups maintain the perception of autonomy due to the private nature of the communication networks (Helm, 2018, pp. 303,305).  The level of perceived digital privacy within a group is altered depending on how organizations leverage automated programs to monitor and interject themselves into the private sphere of a group (Helm, 2018, p. 310). 

            As an individual or member of a group, you likely are aware than an organization is monitoring your digital footprint.  However, the monitoring is likely contrary to your privacy wishes.  What level of expectation do you have for your employer protecting your privacy?  One set of researchers point out that most people are incredibly concerned with the loss of control, unintended disclosure, or misuse of their data.  Responsible organizations want to respect employee privacy; however, they often have a conflicting need to protect information, equipment, reputations, and investments (Chory, Vela, & Avtigis, 2016, p. 24).  There are also plenty of examples of irresponsible corporate behavior that we’ve all witnessed in the media.

            Take, for instance, the Sony cyberattack of 2014, where their organization was found negligent of not guarding against a cyberattack which resulted in personal information, work information, and personal emails posted online exposing employees to identity theft, embarrassment, and career damage (Chory et al., 2016, p. 24).  Another example is that of Facebook requesting the social media login credentials of job applicants or Intermex terminating an employee who objected and refused consent to constant location monitoring on behalf of the employer (Tomczack, Lanzo, & Aguinis, 2018, p. 252).

            You might be asking yourself, what tools would an employer be using to monitor my activities?  They vary but can include productivity software, electronic performance monitoring utilities, mobile tracking systems, and mobile device management systems.  These utilities are all used to monitor a workers documents, internet access, email, instant messaging, calendaring, social media access, wellness data, training and development, along with safety (Areheart & Roberts, 2019, pp. 757,759; Tomczak et al., 2018, p. 251-252; Chory et al., 2016, p. 25). 

            So you think you might have your employer monitoring behavior, why might they want to do so?  One benefit of monitoring is finding toxic behavior in the workplace, such as racial bias, sexual harassment, and cyberloafing.  Another frequent cause for monitoring is to investigate or prevent security misconduct, which includes breaches of trade secrets, intellectual property, and employee files.  Finally, many employees are leveraging the data to measure and improve task performance, productivity, health, and absenteeism in the workplace.

            According to Ribitzky (2007), 78% of all organizations monitor electronic performance of some type, leading to many negative impacts for employees.  These impacts include open resistance from employees, concerns about privacy rights, due process, trust, and fairness.  Employee surveillance can also increase levels of stress while decreasing levels of job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and task performance.  Employees can also feel suspicion, deceit, untrustworthiness, and have lower quality relationships with their management. 

            There are several factors that organizations can address to impact an employee’s feeling of normative privacy.  Normative privacy being privacy that is protected based upon ethical, legal, or conventional norms such as an intrusion by an IT staffer reading confidential documents without permission.  Normative privacy differs from natural privacy, which is a situation in which one is protected by natural means such as holding a private conversation in a closet, which isn’t protected by legal or ethical norms.  Moor (1997) proposed a theory of privacy in the digital age offering three types of protection that are needed to feel a sense of normative privacy, including intrusion protection, interference protection, and information access protection. 

           I’ll discuss intrusion protection, interference protection, and information access protection in-depth in the next three posts of this series on digital privacy.  As a primer, intrusion protection is the concept of being let alone or free from intrusion, interference protection is the ability to make decisions without external influence, and finally information access protection in the control and limitation of access to data by others.  I look forward to an active discussion across social media as I share my research on digital privacy from my doctoral journey.

 

References

Areheart, B., & Roberts, J. (2019). Gina, big data, and the future of employee privacy. Yale Law Journal, 128(3). 710-790.

Chory, R., Vela, L., & Avtgis, T. (2016). Organizational surveillance of computer-mediated workplace communication: Employee privacy concerns and responses. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 28(1). 23-43. doi:10.1007/s10672-015-9267-4

Helm, P. (2018). Treating sensitive topics online: A privacy dilemma. Ethics and Information Technology, 20(4). 303-313. doi:10.1007/s10676-018-9482-4

Merriam-Webster. (2020). Privacy. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/privacy.

Moor, J. (1997). Towards a theory of privacy in the information age. Computers and Society, 27(3): 27-32.  doi:10.1145/270858.270866

Ribitzky, R. (2007). Active monitoring of employees rises to 78%. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=88319&page=1

Tomczak, D., Lanzo, L., & Aguinis, H. (2018). Evidence-based recommendations for employee performance monitoring. Business Horizons, 61(2). 251-259. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2017.11.006