Are you using your work computer for personal use? If you are, do you think your personal data is safe from prying eyes? Today I am looking into some issues you must be aware of before reaping the benefits from your employer “sponsoring” you with a free computer. I also sum up this post giving a solid advice learned from experience.
What’s a computer?
Most people tend to think a computer is either a laptop, workstation or a server. This is wrong. The definition of a computer is as follows:
“A computer is a general-purpose device that can be programmed to carry out a set of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Since a sequence of operations can be readily changed, the computer can solve more than one kind of problem. Conventionally, a computer consists of at least one processing element, typically a central processing unit (CPU), and some form of memory. The processing element carries out arithmetic and logic operations, and a sequencing and control unit can change the order of operations in response to stored information.Peripheral devices allow information to be retrieved from an external source, and the result of operations saved and retrieved.” — Wikipedia
As you can see the definition start out pretty generic. The major clue here is that a computer consist of at least one processing element (CPU). This means, that even your mobile phone is considered a computer. This is important to keep in mind, many people sadly tend to think of their phones as just as a phone. They’re not. Come to think of it, smart watches also fall under this category. Probably other equipment also.
Access to your computer
Now we know what a computer is. Let’s uncover when an employer can get access to your computer legally. As far as I can see from written material, an employer can only access your computer in two given situations. The first situation may occur if there is a suspicion that you break your contract of employment and the duties you have as an employee. The next situation can occur if you are not available, and your employer will have to get information, such as is in an e-mail under your user, to keep up daily operations. But, here is the thing. Your employer can not access this without notifying you or keeping an explicit log over what’s been seen or touched. Keeping a log of what’s been seen or touched is important. Since most people use their work devices for personal use, it is bound to happen that your personal correspondence and files will be accessed.
Access to external media
There are plenty of fallacies in the preceding paragraph. How often do you actually store important data on your computer? Perhaps the most important question is “who still believes that data is only stored on physical devices, e.g laptops”? For instance, in my previous job I always worked on shared drives. My e-mail was hosted on Office365. This means that the IT department could fetch anything they would like given approval from my employer. My colleagues worked solely in the cloud. I wonder how my employer would’ve handled that!
Now back to the introduction. You probably understand that your employer can get access to and retrieve information from your computer. Most of the written material cover if your are still working for the company. But what happens if your employer goes bankrupt? In most cases you must return your computers. Often you get no chance to back up your personal data. Then what? Your employer suddenly has access to all your data and you’ve not.
The best advice I could give is
“always keep your work life separate from your personal life – always”
This means investing in a personal mobile phone and personal laptop. This also means that you only use the work computer for work related things and nothing else. Having a personal e-mail account also helps. It is such a bitch when the only e-mail address you use is linked to your employer. Finally, backup important stuff like your payslips and work contract. Do not under any circumstances leave them in their digital form on the company network. It’s bitch to retrieve them when the company goes out of business.
I should know. I’ve been through two bankruptcies.