Remote-Wiping The Work-Play Distinction


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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33 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    I’ve worked for my current company for a number of years and had a company blackberry and android. Many employees I deal with have them. If you’re of a certain pay/title level, you get hired, get a company laptop and a cell phone. It’s company property and your use of it is monitored/can be monitored.

    All the folks that I know that are in this situation also have a personal cell phone and they carry both with them. No one wants the company to know their personal business, nor do they want to get into a situation where they violate some company/gov’t restriction by doing something business on a personal phone and having it confiscated. When you enter our facility, if you’re not a corporate/company employee, you surrender your cell phone, if it has a camera in it, and that’s about 99% of the phones. You get it back when you leave.Report

  2. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I largely agree. Cloud computing might solve some of this problem because it can allow access without storage.

    Companies should also just accept that employees are going to be doing some non-work browsing and stuff during the work day but there seems to be more of very strong psychological resistance against this fact.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      I’m sure folks use there company computers to log into and other places if they choose to. The company doesn’t reall get all hard over on that. You must use a company computer to do you work however and all company electronic devices are subject to monitoring. Most folks just opt for a personal phone as it’s easier.

      I think I was different. I had a company phone and used it mainly for personal use. When I left that company, it was easier to just buy my company phone back frrom the company and convert it into a personal phone….Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I’ve heard stories that say otherwise. I never really worked for a huge corporation except some large law firms as a freelance proofreader. Basically all my employment has been on a basically freelance variant. The most I got in benefits was taxes deducted and a 401(K). I’ve never been in a position of getting things like PTO or health insurance from an employer. Okay I had PTO when I taught English in Japan for a year.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        I’m sure there are exceptions, but my industry is regulated. Were someone to have certain information on a machine where it is not approved, employees could be fired, jailed, etc. Companies could be fined, barred from additional work, etc. That’s a fairly strong disencentive…Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    This is why I will always keep a personal phone. If my work wants me to have a phone, they can give me one but it will be reserved for only work purposes.

    As it stands it looks like I am going to need to be risky and start my own practice. No one seems to want to higher me as an associate, at least not yet.

    I’m largely stressed out about this. If it is successful, it will be great. If not, I am going to be royally fished.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I’ll keep my fingers crossed ND. If I’m ever in Cali and I need a lawyer* I’ll keep you in mind.

      *Scarce comfort, I’m sad to say, I don’t want to visit California because it’s gonna sink into the sea and I don’t want to get caught cheating on the Atlantic Ocean.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    Yeah basically the moral of this story is unless the company wants to provide a phone keep their crap off yours. Also if the company does provide a phone put nothing on it you would miss if you suddenly were shown the door and the phone was yanked from your hand.Report

  5. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    My feelings on all of this are fairly benign.

    I like the spirit of ideas like this:

    “If you’re that worried about a disgruntled employee using customer data, then to some extent you have to either force employees to use company-issued phones or more reasonably make it very clear what you are reserving the right to do and if employees aren’t cool with that (I wouldn’t be) then you need to issue them phones.”

    But when it comes to stuff like proprietary information, unfortunately, the truth is that no matter what system you come up with the person that wants to circumvent it will be able to. If that disgruntled employee is the kind of person that’s going to want to do something unethical with that info, chances are they’ll have captured that data for themselves long before you wipe the phone.

    Having your proprietary data at risk is just part of the cost of giving people access to proprietary data. And if you are an employer that is shirking health & bennies costs by hiring independent contractors instead of employees that you can better vet and keep an eye on, then that’s just part of what you bought.

    That being said, if an employer letting an employee use a company smart phone that has potentially proprietary data on it, I think remotely wiping it at termination is more than OK — I think it should be standard practice.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      That being said, if an employer letting an employee use a company smart phone that has potentially proprietary data on it, I think remotely wiping it at termination is more than OK — I think it should be standard practice.

      To clarify… how are you defining “company smart phone” here? Company-issued? Company-subsidized? Partially company-subsidized?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Oh, nothing nearly that complicated. Basically, I meant something that can hold stuff like client contact info (or whatever) that you can actually remote wipe.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        In which case, I disagree. If companies are concerned about proprietary and company information, they need to be able to do so in a way that doesn’t delete baby pictures. Or issue phones. I think giving the companies the OK to do this means, among other things, that they don’t have to figure out the intricacies. They can just nuke it. It’s not their phone, after all…Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I’m confused.

        How is a company phone not the company’s?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Because they don’t own it, the contract isn’t in their name, and you may have purchased it before you even interviewed for the job.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        By way of example, my wife’s former employer said “We don’t provide you with phones. We will help you with your phone bill, however, by giving you $60 a month. Or my brother, who had a personal iPhone and a work-issued Blackberry until they said “No more Blackberry. Start using your phone. We’ll reimburse you $80 a month for service.”Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      At one of my previous employers, I was one of a few people who got to touch the “crown jewels” of our super secret source code. It lived in a locked room on an isolated network. This all made good sense. But inside that locked room, they had security software out the wazoo–stuff that supposedly kept us from copying data off of the computers. Major pain in the ass for a lot of reasons I won’t go into here.

      The funny part is that if they couldn’t trust us, there was really nothing they could do. An OS-level programmer with plenty of hardware knowhow whose job description includes securing handheld devices is being left alone in that locked room with all the dev tools in the world and supervision all day long. In fact, most of the people who could possibly supervise us weren’t cleared to get keys to the room. So if we wanted to walk out with that data, it would have been no sweat. Sometimes you just have to hire people you can trust and then trust them.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Better than getting the escort by black helicopter and blindfold.
        (I’m not sure if that was ITAR related. I do know what business it was,
        and the security was … a good idea.)

        The military’s solution goes one step further, of course — make a
        language that nobody but a handful of programmers knows.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Sony, with the tanks?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I don’t think I know anyone who’s ever worked for Sony.
        (been wrong before…).
        If you really want to guess, though:
        High availability, no margin for error, get it right, or don’t you dare change a thing.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      You seem to have the same misunderstanding I had: The article is about employers remotely wiping devices which are the personal property of their employees.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    If companies are going to expect their employees to use their own phones, computers, and tablets for work than they really need to respect anything private that might be on it rather than wipe it out for the company good.Report

  7. Avatar Patrick says:

    I’m unclear on how this can be accomplished without the collusion of your cell phone carrier.

    If you buy a phone, you have a contract with your carrier. Assuming your phone isn’t unlocked, your carrier has certain access capabilities to your phone, including the ability to wipe it if they want to do so.

    If you get employment with a company, and they have, say, an IMAP server at their end, they can certainly remove your ability to access the mail (they could go one step farther and configure everything at the server end so that connecting clients think all email should be deleted when they reconnect, I suppose), but they can’t arbitrarily wipe your device unless (a) they install something on your device or (b) they go around you to your carrier and have your carrier to it.

    Something is missing from this story.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I assumed that they installed something.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        Well, if you allow your company to install something on your personal phone, there’s your problem, right there.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Back at my wife’s previous job, they basically said “If you want to be able to connect your phone to our records and networks, hand your phone off to IT and they’ll have it ready for you in an hour.”Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Cough*HIPAA* cough. Bane of medical IT staff everywhere. There’s a rumor that comes up from time to time that the reason Microsoft keeps extending the security lifetime for Windows XP is that the day they drop support, Windows XP machines are no longer HIPAA-compliant and must be removed from the medical networks. And they’re scared that the medical industry will jump to something else that can run on all that older hardware, rather than replacing it with boxes that can run Windows 7/8.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        @patrick A lot of people might not feel comfortable saying no to a request from the boss.Report

  8. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    As a New York Football Giants fan, I am glad that Michael Irvin was inconvenienced like this…Report

  9. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    One of my biggest career goals for the last 10 years has been trying to get to the point where I can work from home. 90% of my job is in front of a computer and has nothing to do with a physical location though. Recently I have soured on it a bit for my particular work though because that 10% of the time I need to be on-site is usually in small time blocks and extremely unpredictable. Having the flexibility to hop up and go talk to someone in person for five minutes is always preferable to trying to get them on the phone (Plus, I’m a visual guy and I can draw a picture if necessary.)

    In dealing with bosses who work remotely it is frustrating to try to pin them down for a 2 minute conversation. You end up spending lots of extra time going back and forth via email.

    Also, my job requires use of a company laptop for work purposes from home but they do nothing to prevent on line transfer of files to a third party site or to a flash drive so it is mostly just the illusion of security. If someone was so inclined it would be incredibly easy to make off with sensative documents.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      I suspect that the scenario they’re trying to avoid is an employee being fired or laid off unexpectedly and then being able to go home and decide at his (angry) leisure whether to delete or exploit the data on his home computer. Yes, someone can always plan ahead and back up data to a thumb drive just in case, but very few people will do that. Heck, most people don’t even back up their own data. Firing someone and then taking his laptop before you let him out of your sight eliminates the vast majority of problem cases.Report