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I'm an employer, and I do not approve of this text message

October 15, 2008 |  3:28 pm

Surveillance Most people know it's probably not a good idea to use your corporate e-mail account to write about how you skipped out on work and had too many beers at the Dodgers game. But you may want to think twice about doing the same via text message on your work-issued phone.

New guidelines for financial firms that were issued in December (you can read a PDF download here) mean that companies are responsible for any secure information employees send over their mobile phones, in addition to e-mail. Hospitals and other organizations that work with personal information are also cracking down on employees who send messages over phones.

But it's not as easy for employers to read your text messages as it is for them to read your e-mail. Right now, text messages sent on employee phones are archived, but a hole in most systems means that if an employee sends a text message and then deletes the sent file, the archive won't store it.

So Onset Technology has come up with Big Brother software that enables employers to monitor employees' texts, as well as control who they're writing texts to and what they're writing. It's called METAmessage Advanced Compliance Tool.

"We scan and block text messages so the company makes sure there are no text messages going out that violate company policy," said Zack Silvinger, the company's vice president of business development and marketing.

That means if your company has decided that curse words, sexually explicit words, or even the word "beer" aren't acceptable, you'll be thwarted every time you try to send a text message with banned words on it. What's more, your message will be sent to the human resources department. Yikes!

Companies using the software can also create blacklists to control whom employees can text.

If you're scared now, you might get some relief knowing that federal law prevents service providers from turning over contents of text messages to an employer, even if an employer pays for the service. But with this software, your employer scans the text messages before you even send them.

It may seem ridiculous for companies to employ these tactics, but they can prevent legal issues from arising, said Patrick Corr, Onset's vice president of sales. "The idea is to protect the enterprise," he said.

In non-business speak, this means your employer is monitoring your texts to save its own rear end. And maybe prevent you from saying things about the Dodgers you might later regret.

-- Alana Semuels

Photo: Surveillance cameras in London. Credit: akanekal via Flickr