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How do I judge the appropriateness of software in the workplace?

Considering privacy, what kind of software programs do you think are appropriate in the workplace? Should instant messengers be allowed for employees? How much control should an employer have over employees?

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The proper answer would be "whatever is appropriate." Many companies lock down their workstations and refuse to allow third-party software of any kind to be installed on them, or they block the ports that instant messenger programs use. Part of these safeguards is an increasing awareness that some programs are used to leak company secrets, and pro-whistleblower organizations are rightfully concerned about such restrictions. I know many companies that enforce overly strict controls wind up losing employees and damage both morale and productivity, which hurts everyone. So perhaps the strictest controls are not best.

This was first published in July 2003

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