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Cyberslacking pays handsomely for some

Every time you shop online or download porn at work, you're helping build a $562m industry

Cyberslacking, or using the boss's bandwidth for personal activities like e-shopping or porn downloading, isn't just a corporate vice. According to a new study, it's helping spawn a $562m industry known as employee Internet management, or EIM.

"EIM is big business," said Chris Christiansen, research director for IDC's Internet Security Division. And Christiansen should know. At the Productivity Summit 2000: Cyberslacking at Work on Thursday, he released a new IDC white paper, "Employee Internet Management", which mapped out the current and future thinking on Net access control -- from Web filtering to real-time analysis of an employee's surf habits -- in the workplace.

In its white paper, IDC claims companies are evolving from block-and-track Internet access control, or IAC, software to more benign EIM software that allows companies to set aside periods, such as after hours or during lunch, for personal surfing. The paper, sponsored by Summit host and EIM software vendor Websense, also marshals two compelling sets of numbers:

  • Currently, 122 million people have Net access at work. That number is predicted to rise to 272 million by 2004, making cyberslacking a potentially enormous strain on corporate bandwidth

  • As of 1999, IAC software was a $63m (£39m) market. By 2004, though, IDC expects IAC will have evolved into an EIM software market worth $562m (£348m).

Currently, "660,000 companies are interested in buying these products," Christiansen said.

Marriott International is among those 660,000, according to Scott Davis, Marriott's senior technical analyst. The hotel conglomerate, which six months ago implemented EIM software, has seen its work-related Internet use double in the past 12 months, and Davis' IT department has become the "access police".

"Streaming medias are chewing up a lot more bandwidth than the HTTP protocol did in the past," he said. "And we have the HR departments and the corporate policy departments coming to us and telling us the [Internet] policy to implement," he said.

Without adequate software, though, "it becomes more and more difficult to track down what users are doing and when they are doing it," Davis added.

Cyberslacking isn't all employees' fault, though, according to Dr David Greenfield. Greenfield -- a psychologist, author of Virtual Addiction, and the chief executive and founder of the Center for Internet Studies -- contends that employers need to set workplace standards for appropriate Net usage.

Greenfield conducted a study of 18,000 Web users in conjunction with ABCNews.com, and found that, among other things, 33 percent of the time people spend online occurs while at work. "It's not that people are bad or want to slack off. It's just too tempting," he said.

Companies may get more than they bargain for by gathering data on when and where their employees go, and what they do, online. Lewis Maltby, president of the National Work Rights Institute, said employers run the risk of grossly infringing their employees' privacy. "I think most employers would be embarrassed to find out about their employees' sex habits or drinking problems. But that's the road we do seem to be going down," Maltby said.

Maltby called for companies to concentrate on the amount of time employees spend surfing the Net, rather than pinpointing each and every site they visit, or email they send. "Let's not push the panic button. Let's not go off half-cocked and start doing incredibly intrusive things," he said.

"I could see situations where you have a very, very personal email and the employer was delving into that without good reason. I could see a good case for [legal] liability." Maltby added that privacy is becoming an increasingly precious commodity in the electronic age. "While privacy is not dead, if it was a stock, I wouldn't buy it," he said.

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