Scotts Valley, Calif. -- SurfControl plc, a provider of enterprise Web and e-mail filtering, has released a three-country survey showing that one-third of employees continue to use business e-mail to send sexual content to colleagues and others outside the company, while one-third also use Internet access at work to download pornography.
The study, commissioned by SurfControl and conducted by Dr. Monica Whitty in the School of Psychology at Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland, surveyed employee use of Internet and e-mail at 350 companies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Of these, slightly more than half the companies were in the United States.
In response to the question, "Have you ever used e-mail in the workplace to send sexual material to a colleague?" about one-third (28 percent) said they had. A small minority of the total surveyed, about 3 percent, said they did so every day.
A slightly higher number, about 31 percent, said they'd e-mailed "sexual material to someone outside of (their) workplace," and 4 percent admitted doing it every day.
"Despite corporate efforts to train and educate staff on the risks associated with Internet communications, a surprising level of Web and e-mail abuse persists," says Kevin Blakeman, President, the Americas, for SurfControl. "This survey revealed that there continues to be an enormous potential for legal liability, significant drain on companies' technology resources and huge amounts of time wasted in non-business related pursuits."
Employee use of Web access while at work showed that one-third (28 percent) of those surveyed said they had downloaded sexually explicit content from the Web while on the job. Meanwhile, just over half of those asked (51 percent) said they had "been exposed to sexually explicit material by co-workers who had downloaded it from the Web."
"Clearly, companies must combine detailed Acceptable Use Policies with effective technology to manage email and Internet access," says Blakeman. "IT managers should vigilantly monitor for abuses so they can minimize risk to the organization and assure network resources are properly used."
The survey also found abuse to be slightly higher in organizations with more than 500 employees. For example, of the 31 percent of employees who sent sexually explicit material outside the workplace, 36.2 percent worked at companies larger than 500 employees while 22.6 percent worked for companies with 20 employees or less.
U.S. respondents were slightly less likely to send sexual material via e-mail to colleagues or to download sexually explicit material from the Web than respondents from the U.K. or Australia, according to the survey.
"U.S. businesses face increasing legal liabilities from inappropriate Web use in the office," says Blakeman. "No business can afford even one employee jeopardizing the entire organization through irresponsible and reckless Internet activity."
The survey found that about 16 percent of those who saw sexually explicit material on a colleague's computer would consider taking some form of legal action.
The survey, conducted between May 17 and August 23, was mailed to randomly selected business organizations in Australia, the U.K. and the United States. The businesses then invited their employees to voluntarily participate. The margin of error for the survey +/-.2%.