A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Here’s How Your Employer Knows Everything You Do Online

Forget about just reading the emails you send on your work computer. Your employer could be monitoring your every keystroke.

1 / 16
Close-up of hands of business man. View through blinds
Konstantin Chagin/Shutterstock

Just how often are you being watched?

By now, you probably know that anything you email from your company account or anything you text from a company phone can be seen and read by your employer. (And if you didn’t know that, now you do.) But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what employers can and do monitor while you’re working. “Employers vary in the ways and techniques they monitor employees’ computer behavior,” explains Mike Miller, Editor-in-Chief of Wilderness Times. “Most people think the only risk is that their boss peeps over their shoulder and sees them on Facebook. This falls short, since they can track your data on your computer.”

The best thing to do is assume they are always watching. “This means being mindful of what you post, write, or read online,” says Miller. “Remember: When you use a work computer, that’s their computer, and they can install any software they want on it. That includes software to take screenshots of your browsing, log your keystrokes, and record your history.” See below for the various ways that employers can monitor you, and also learn about the household devices that could be spying on you right now.

2 / 16
Image of woman using laptop while sitting at her desk. Young african american businesswoman sitting in the office and working on laptop.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

An overview of employer snooping

“Employers can track the traffic that moves through their office network, they can archive and audit email communications, they can retain phone records for your office phone, and there are many software products that an employer can install on devices to track usage. The software products can range in how intrusive they are, but some will include logging keystrokes on your keyboard, taking screenshots or capturing video recordings of your screen, and creating reports that will show time spent on different websites that an employer can view.” —Cole Torres, owner of Cole’s Computer Solutions. Don’t miss these 14 signs that your boss is spying on you.

3 / 16
Business man using mobile smart phone, busy working on laptop computer browsing internet or checking internet application on smartphone with digital tablet and business data on office desk, close up

Monitoring your Web activity

“Our company, Clickagy, tracks digital activities. We normally are hired to intercept URL log data for a network, linking local computers to their Web activity (allowed per the employment contract of the companies). Then our NLP analyzes the keywords of every page URL visited, allowing the employer to mine for specific employees who are researching ‘resumes’ or competitive keywords. When someone qualifies for a filtered keyword, the employer can get instantly notified.” —Harry Maugans, CEO of Clickagy. So, no, this isn’t paranoia, and in fact, other people may be watching you, too. Here are 12 red flags that someone may be spying on your computer.

4 / 16
Portrait of young woman working holding laptop standing against panoramic window with city view

Reading your emails

“Many companies archive all emails indefinitely. As an employee, you may not realize this. Your employer might search their email archive for a number of reasons. For example, if you work for a government agency, your employer may conduct searches pursuant to a public-records request by a newspaper. And emails unrelated to the request might come up in the search, including personal emails. Bottom line: Your emails can be tracked.” —William Taylor, Career Development Manager at VelvetJobs.

5 / 16
Young Asian man sitting in coffeeshop table and working on laptop
Dragon Images/Shutterstock

Seeing how distracted you are

“It truly is Big Brother watching you! Many employers use different tools and tactics to monitor the activities of their employees during working hours. Teramind is a platform that can be used to measure distraction by looking at how much a person is switching between applications.” —Reem El Shafaki, a consultant at GX. To stay focused, check out these tips on how to be more productive in your first hour of work.

6 / 16
Secure ceiling digital camera, close up
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Knowing your physical location

“Employers can also track offline activity in a number of ways. Examples of this include a GPS tracker on a company vehicle, video surveillance systems on company property, and location tracking with access badges used to unlock doors in the company offices.” —Torres.

7 / 16
Young businesswoman in eyeglasses looking at display of wristwatch and managing time while checking email on laptop.Freelancer with smartwatch on hand working on article at netbook before deadline

Tracking your time on a project

“I employ and manage my own virtual team of writers and video editors employed from the work platform Upwork. Upwork’s time tracker follows a ten-minute increment system, where a random single screenshot is taken every ten minutes with all the activities per minute listed below every screenshot. As an employer, it gives me a sense of security and assurance that my freelancers are indeed working and not being inactive. And if a freelancer accidentally opened Spotify while working, they can easily delete the shot or simply stop tracking when they want to take a break. This system guarantees assurance for the client and freedom for the freelancer.” —Simon Hanse, founder and blogger at Best Sports Lounge

8 / 16
job office

Seeing when you’re logged in

TimeDoctor software tracks employee activity. We turn off the part that records the screen and photos from the camera. We track what resource the employee spent how much time on, but do not know the contents.” —Maksym Babych, CEO at SpdLoad

9 / 16
Low angle of elegant grey-haired mature male manager in expensive suit and glasses browsing smartphone on blurred background with New York skyscrapers

Tracking your company phone

“Company phones are often used as a way to monitor the activity of employees. They can have keylogging programs installed that relay every word typed and every website visited back to the employer. They can also have GPS tracking, so employees’ locations are always known. Don’t take your company phone to a ball game if you told your boss you’re heading to the hospital with a medical emergency.” —Darrin Giglio, Chief Investigator at North American Investigations. Learn these 12 career-killing mistakes to avoid when on a work call.

10 / 16
Woman entrepreneur busy with her work in office. Young woman talking over telephone while working on computer at her desk.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Monitoring your keyboard and mouse

“Employers can see what kind of work is happening in real-time through time-tracking and staff-monitoring software. They can also capture the activity levels based on the usage of keyboard and mouse.” —Tim Uittenbroek, founder of VPNMash.com

11 / 16
Woman using laptop indoor.close-up hand

Following exactly where you’re going, even if you’re in Incognito Mode

“To put it simply, if you’re on our network, we know what you’re doing and where you’re going. Even in Incognito Mode, you’re still passing through our router and firewalls, which means we know which IP addresses and MAC addresses (the number identifying different hardware) are making requests to which URLs. So while your browser may not remember where you’ve been, we certainly do.” —Mike Falahee, owner and CEO of Marygrove Awnings. For more on this, check out the hidden truth behind Google’s Incognito Mode.

12 / 16
Beautiful focused Asian woman browsing smartphone in front of laptop in workspace in Hong Kong city with people in background

Watching your social media feed

“When it comes to monitoring employees’ activities, employers tend to follow less specific mediums. They resort to ways such as Facebook posts, Instagram activities, etc. ‘Is she posting a status when she is on duty? Is it related to the job?'” —Joseph Tsaker, owner of DeAnalyst. Here are 13 social media posts that could get you fired.

13 / 16
Senior business woman talking on cell phone while working on laptop in office. Mature female using laptop and talking on mobile phone.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Monitoring your calls

“Besides online-tracking software, businesses that heavily rely on marketing through phone calls can track the phone calls of a salesman by using tracking services like mSpy, TheOneSpy, and TeleNav Track.” —Uittenbroek

14 / 16
close up of a web cam on a laptop in a home setting

Utilizing your computer’s webcam

“There are companies that are able to view the video feed from the computer’s built-in webcam! It is a good idea to block the webcam on any employer-provided device when it is not in use. There are physical camera covers that can be acquired and placed on the device, or you can use a simpler option such as covering the camera with paper or non-transparent tape.” —Patrick Sullivan, PASU Holdings. Here’s the real likelihood you’re being watched through your laptop camera, whether you’re on your company computer or not.

15 / 16
Workplace with notebook laptop Comfortable work table in office windows and city view.

Keep your work life and personal life separate

“To the greatest extent possible, employees should try to separate work-related and personal devices and communications. If an employee uses a work device or personal network, the employee should be extremely careful with what they say and do and understand that such communications may be subject to monitoring.” —Beth Zoller, Legal Editor at XpertHR

16 / 16
Business project team working together at meeting room at office.Horizontal.Blurred background.Flares
SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock

Don’t get paranoid, but do ask questions

“The best tip I can give is to keep all personal online activity (social media, personal email, etc.) off of company-owned devices. And a final piece of advice would be to ask the IT department what kind of tracking systems they implement. I’ve found that most are open and honest. Getting a picture of what your company does will allow you to decide what kind of activities you want to partake in.” —Torres.

Joe McKinley
Joe McKinley is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering cars, careers, tech and more.