Friday, November 07, 2008

Business Net Filters May Be Now Useless

Everyone knows the Web is an awesome time waster, with many addictions waiting to be had, whether it is eBay or fantasy sports teams or gambling or obsessively refreshing political blogs. And what time is better to play with the web then when you are sitting in a chair at a desk both made to enable using a computer efficiently and effectively, at the time of day you are most alert? So when having the Web became a mandatory business tool for everyone in the mid-nineties, businesses were confronted with the fact that they were putting a direct line to brain-crack in front of everyone. Because let's face it, work is boring, and the web is made to not bore.

Enter the business network proxy: a place where all connections going outside the Intranet have to go through, where they can be monitored and filtered. While many computing policies at large companies try to make soothing noises that you do have a life and they understand you sometimes have to check up on it while at work, people have been fired for being on eBay too much. And the way sexual harassment laws work in the USA, an employer can get in trouble for 'creating or allowing a sexually hostile workplace' if there is a lot of sex being browsed on screens on or passed around in email, so that has to be filtered too.

So much can be written about filtering policies and systems, because they always filter out too much and not enough at the same time, and they can never keep up with how the web grows. Still the best policy I have ever heard of for managing people's web use was to not filter anything, but just send new workers an email at the end of their first week of all the sites they browsed and how much time they spent, with a warning that next week's list will be posted, with names, in the department, along with everyone else's weekly list. Sitting behind our desks we forget the network people can and do check how we use that business resource, and just that reminder gets most people in line. I used to bring my own sub-notebook with a wireless CDPD (an early wireless data standard for mobile phones) card because I refused to check my email over the corporate network, nobody but me needed to read that. Yes, it was conspicuous that I wanted outside access, but also, I got my work and more done and people understood I had a private email life.

Now most workplaces think they have some form of control and sex and mayhem are being safely kept out the door, if not all then enough of it. Except that yesterday I was sending a friend a URL of something remarkable I saw on a site, and he complained that ah damn, his company was filtering it -- he was at work while I was not, a time-difference issue. I told him it could wait, and a minute later he responded with "Nope, iPhone 3G to the rescue. Oh wow look at that" etc. Yes, many of us geeksknowledge workers, and an astounding amount of all kinds of other demographics, now carry the full Internet with an ok screen in our pockets and purses. Corporate filters to keep us out of trouble are useless: we all have our own unlimited data-plans and screens to get to it now. I don't think it will be the end of the corporate filtering industry, but boy, HR departments had better prepare new presentations and guidelines about how to use your own data terminals, terminals HR cannot check up on, in the workplace. Mark my words, someone will get a company to seriously pay up because a colleague showed them sexually explicit videos on that colleague's iPhone or G1 or Touch HD, not using the corporate network or equipment, for a second time after having been warned not to do that.