For managers and small business owners, the decision of whether or not to adopt a content filtering system can be tricky. In the best-case scenario, a content filtering system improves productivity and security, cleanses offices of irrelevant and inappropriate media, and protects employees from their own bad impulses and web-browsing habits. In the worst-case scenario, the system actually reduces productivity by slowing Internet speeds and inadvertently blocking normal business-related websites. Employee morale may also be affected if workers interpret the content filtering system as an invasion of their privacy or an indirect criticism of their performance. And not only is the decision to adopt the filter difficult, setting up and configuring the system can also be a lot of work. Managers will oftentimes have to select prohibited sites manually and monitor Internet traffic for attempts to bypass the filter and misuse (mainly overuse) of legitimate websites. Ultimately the decision to adopt content filtering will depend on company-specific factors such as bandwidth usage, prior security incidents related to inappropriate websites, the current productivity level of the office, and whether anyone has already complained about being exposed to obscene content at the workplace.
For the still-undecided, this PC magazine article gives a further outline of the pros and cons of content filtering. It points out that data security regulations such HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley make content filters a requirement for companies in certain industries. It also provides some tips for setting up a filtering system that satisfies both managers and employees:
-To provide employees with more control, managers can enable features such as soft blocking (“in which a warning page is sent to the user instead of the requested page but access to the URL is still allowed through a link”) and review requests.
-Management should notify employees about the installation of a content filter. Not only does this protect the company from potential litigation, it also helps to maintain trust between managers and workers. Furthermore, notification gives employees a chance to modify their behavior on their own, saving managers the trouble of having to reprimand them.
-Content filters cannot stop malware and hacking attacks by themselves. They have to be paired with firewalls and antivirus to provide adequate data security
If the PC magazine article seems to underestimate the downsides of unmonitored Internet use at the office (“There haven’t been that many lawsuits, productivity is up overall, and bandwidth is cheap,” it quotes Gartner analyst Bill Gassman as saying), it may be because the article was published in 2004. Since then, social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and media streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora have attained the status of the workplace’s most prominent time-sinks. According to Nielsen, when Americans browse the Internet they spend 22.5% of their time on social media and a combined 53.5 billion minutes per year on Facebook. The research company also found that 44% of all online video viewing was occurring in the workplace. Social networking and media streaming sites aren’t just newer and trendier versions of instant messaging and Peer-to-Peer file sharing networks, either. They are uniquely wasteful of employees’ time and employers’ resources: social media has many more variations and features than IM, for example, and streaming media (higher quality and more frequently accessed than its predecessors P2P and direct download) utilizes a costly amount of bandwidth.
For many managers, social networking and streaming media by themselves are enough of a justification for a content filter. According to Tech Republic, over 70% of businesses have already banned the use of social media at the workplace. The manufacturing conglomerate Procter & Gamble also recently made headlines by cutting off internal access to Pandora and Netflix due to the excessive bandwidth consumption of its 129,000 employees. On the other hand, some people have defended the use of social media in the workplace, citing positives such as free advertising and it being an excellent source of market research and testing.
No matter what an organization decides about installing a content filter, they should select a hosting company with quality solutions and the flexibility and expertise to include or leave out a filter system—like IronOrbit. Our virtual desktops can all be packaged with a content filter. Managers can customize the settings of our filtering system to prohibit inappropriate Internet locales such as social networking, media streaming, gossip, sports, and adult websites. IronOrbit Hosted Desktops are also extremely secure as a result of our built-in security measures such as antivirus, anti-spyware, spam filters, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and firewalls. In addition, because of our infrastructure’s unique non-persistent architecture we can delete a user’s virtual desktop after every session (along with whatever malware it contains) while still retaining the user’s data and audit trail. IronOrbit Virtual Desktops have the flexibility, security, and performance to support your business and technical operations regardless of your company’s type, size, or IT requirements.