Wednesday WIP: the perils of research

For those who aren’t up (or is it down?) with writerly abbreviations, a WIP is a Work In Progress.  I have a couple on the boil at the moment, along with several on the proverbial back burner, where they can just stay until these others are finished!

For one of the current ones, I had to do some research on key logging software.

I knew about key loggers in the vaguest sense from warnings I have received about hackers.  They are programs that the sneaky hacker tries to load onto your computer to track what keys you hit, with the aim of finding the strings of keystrokes that are passwords.  Which they then use to steal your money, one imagines.

But I had no idea that you could go out and buy the software, quite legally.

The marketers of the programs promote them as a way to keep tabs on employees and children.  In the first case, to make sure that they aren’t spending their work time on Facebook, and in the second, that they aren’t getting up to things they shouldn’t.

Now, I understand that social media can be a real problem for employers and that parents are worried about their kids – but both of these applications shocked me to my socks.

It seems like such a betrayal of trust.

Of course, if an employee is using their paid time to mess around on the internet, you could argue that they have broken faith first.  But I think if an employer feels the need to do this, they need to take a good hard look at the work they are asking people to do and how they are managing and motivating.  Engaged, committed, happy staff don’t goof off – not excessively, anyway.

As for children… I believe that parents should know who their kids mix with and where they are going and that includes online.  But I also think that they should mostly find those things out by asking, by taking an interest, by having a house that’s open to friends and by keeping the lines of communication strong.  Insisting that an underage person have you as a Facebook friend, or that internet access be in a family space, not a private one, is one thing.  Spying on their every keystroke seems to me to be quite another.

What do you think?  Is it okay to keylog your employee’s, children’s (or, dare I say it) spouse’s computer activity?  Am I being naive about this?  How would you feel if someone did it to you?

Slightly freaked out…


The groovy spy image above was provided by:

27 thoughts on “Wednesday WIP: the perils of research

  1. Hmm, tricky little ethics question. In the case of employees it is the company computer so what they do to it is their biz I guess. In the case of children… there aren’t really any limits a parent would stop at to keep their child safe but a pinch of common sense is, as always, necessary. Keeping a hopefully open and honest line of dialogue going is my plan. But teenagers… so evil and sneaky and sh*t. Who knows. We can only hope for the best.

    • It is interesting, isn’t it? I must admit, before, in the abstract, I have been in favour of parents keeping tabs on their children online. Even to the point of ‘spying’ if necessary. And yet, this shocked me, which I found interesting. I think it’s because it seems to speak to a broken relationship if it’s necessary. Also, teenagers have always lied and tried to get away with stuff. Is online so different? I know it is, in some ways, but in others, maybe not so much. It’s a poser.

  2. I think when at work on an employers system, be astute, aware (beware!). On your own time, on your own network, it’s all yours, cheaters beware. Parents, well I think internet is your child’s modern day diary. You are a parent. You will do what you must.

    • Absolutely, Resa. I think, at work, you have to assume that you are observed. And if you are doing your job, and keeping yourself nice, you won’t run into trouble that way anyway. And sure, there are few things a parent wouldn’t do to keep a child safe. I think it was just the blithe assurance of these sites that it was perfectly okay to monitor people that got to me. It was so… cheerful. It just seemed odd.

  3. Interesting topic Imelda. I love doing the research and love the tangents it sends you in. And yes it can be confronting, exciting and disturbing.
    I work for the DET (dept of Education and Training) and whenever I’m on my computer it is solely for work! I have not the time in my job or the lee-way to *get up to *Stuff* * 🙂 🙂
    My computer time is pretty well taken up just getting done what I have to. And they are locked down with what sites are available to us, (which I honestly agree with BTW)
    Any extra curricular PC activity is done from home.
    As to children and Computers. (MY SOAP BOX) lol
    We had one of the first commodore ’64s. (yes that long ago) and it was always in the family/living room for all to see and share.
    As the updated PC’s followed, that rule did not change until my kids were at least 17 and buying their own. Call me old fashioned, you won’t stop the clever hackers, but I believe we can all monitor our own household. (ok off S/B now) 🙂

    • I’m right with you on the soap box, Mary, that’s why I am a little shocked by the idea of key logging. I think if you make it public and have the conversation about why then there is a limit to what kids will get up to and/or try to get up to. I’m all for setting limits and enforcing them, I just think that things have come to a pretty pass if we are reduced to this kind of spying.

      Same with work really. I have no problem with system admins blocking some sites. There is no need for people to be on social media or watching cat videos at work. if they work at a computer all day and need a break they should get away from it anyway! But again, that’s about an open, stated position, which is a much better way to handle it, I think.

      Thanks for joining the conversation. It’s an interesting one!

  4. I think resorting to keyloggers to keep track of what your children do on the computer means you have already closed the line of communication with the children and everyone is a bit too suspicious in such a family. Granted, when I was a kid we had dial-up Internet which meant I had to ask before going online so as not to block the one phone line in the household. That and I had a KOL account that restricted access until I was in middle school.

    As for employers using it, I think that can be necessary. I’ve known people in school (and after I graduated) who are so addicted to online games and forums that they play constantly. If it takes a keylogger to get such a person to stop goofing off, then it can be a good thing in that situation.

    • Casey, you raise an interesting point. I realised after I wrote that about people not goofing off that I was thinking of people my age. We didn’t grow up with these online distractions, so, addictive as they are, they aren’t as hardwired into us as they are for younger people. I can see that they could be a real issue for employers these days. I still can’t help thinking that there must be better – not least more efficient for the employer – ways of handling it than with keyloggers. I can’t say I’m sure what they are, but more along the lines of restricting access than monitoring.

    • It’s tricky, isn’t it? Concern is one thing, but monitoring just feels wrong to me. It seems to be feeding into this paranoia we seem to have about parenting these days. Yes, there are dangers on the internet, but there have been dangers to the young and stupid since the first candidate for the Darwin award chased a mammoth off a cliff. I still think it’s better to try to equip kids to think for themselves and let them make their own decisions (within reason) than hover to this extent.

      • I reckon when it comes to parenting its more about instilling values and then they make their own choices….kinda like an inside out thing. Rather than impose….

  5. Raises some tricky ethical issues, as several others have noted. Trust within families is one of them. More generally, though, the problem as I see it is the potential misuse of the information. History paints some very clear (and dire) lessons about data collected for good purpose, and ethically, being turned to evil use later by others. Not helped by the persistent false syllogisms often associated with that misuse – ‘if you are innocent, you have nothing to fear’, and ‘if you object to this being collected, you must be hiding something’. Reason, tolerance and above all trust – including a faith in the basic goodness and qualities of humanity, however naive or simplistic this may seem in those words – may be the only tools we have to avoid that particular trap.

    • As always, Matthew, you raise an excellent point and have put it so well. People may not always live up to our expectations, but if we expect the worst, we guarantee that they will live down to them.

      I think one of the things that bothers me so much about this kind of tool is its blanket nature. You might start doing it to check if your child is being targeted by predators, but you will almost certainly find out other things – and what do you do with that information? As Resa said, it’s like reading a diary and I think most people would agree that that is over the line. Children need some space to grow into their own selves and oversight like this, no matter how well-meaning can’t be conducive to that. It also risks destroying the very thing it seeks to ensure. If your children can’t trust you, they will just get better at hiding things from you.

      As to the wider collection of information, you’re right. History does not give it a good press. Certainly we live in a brave new world, these days and privacy as we used to know it is no more, but that doesn’t mean we should just accept cheerfully that it has no meaning at all.

  6. I thought WIP was a variation on VIP – Weird Important Person or some such thing. I am most distressed to discover it is “work in progress”.

    If I were the boss in some massive organisation I’d want to know if my employees were messing about all day instead of working. And if they were I’d make an example of them; I’d put I picture of them up in the foyer with a speech bubble emanating from their head bearing the legend; “I smell bad!”. That would teach them! Seeing as I’m not Mr. Boss, would it bother me? If my passwords were leaked I’d freak out. But the fact is privacy is disappearing anyway – wherever we go, online or in life, we’re logged on CCTV, binary code, and by satellite. George Orwell would eat his hat.

    • By all means, believe it means weirdly important person, if it pleases you. Or even Welcome! Important Person! We are very open to interpretation, here at Wine, Women and Wordplay…

      I agree, privacy is not what it was. But that doesn’t mean that we should accept thought policing without even thinking about it. And this sort of oversight goes perilously close to that. By all means, if you are paying people, ensure that they are working. But tracking them when they pay their bills at lunchtime? How is that reasonable? As I said, it was the cheeful acceptance of it as normal and desirable by the vendors that really freaked me out.

      • How about Wasabi (for the) Important Person? Or Wunderbar Important Person!! Achtung! I’m in a stupid mood today.

        You have a valid point indeed. Perhaps, Imelda, you should be the next Totalitarian Regime writer like George “I eat my hat” Orwell or Aldous “Where are my trousers?” Huxley. I do find this intrusion on privacy annoying but is there anything a solitary human like ME in this big old world can do about it!?!?!? Even on the bus ride in to work there are CCTV cameras everywhere watching me sit and read my latest book whilst listening to chavs and superfluous phone calls. Actually, the British government recently announced they were considering monitoring ALL phone calls/texts for potential terrorist threats. Implications etc. What’s it like in Australia? The general belief here is that Australians are a lot more relaxed about things. Unless there’s a Black Widow on your loo. That’s the common stereotype, anyway.

        • I think the proposal to listen to all calls is probably an Olympics-generated thing. Governments go a bit mental around such times. Can you imagine the tedium? Or, conversely, the distraction factor? Inside text-monitoring outpost 1 (situated foolishy close to a high school):

          ‘Cyril, you wouldn’t read about it, that deadbeat Ryan has broken up with Cheryl AGAIN! I don’t know what she sees in him, really I don’t. She should look at that nice Dave. He sends lovely texts. He’s funny and he can even spell. Oh no. Oh dear me no. She’s sent that terrible Ryan a sext. What was she thinking? It’ll be all over school by tomorrow. Should I delete it? No, Cyril, it isn’t terrorist related, but it’s still important. Should I text her Mum? No, Cyril, I don’t think this is a waste of time. You’re a father. Don’t you care? Look, I’ll just quarantine it and send her a text telling her not to be such a twit. What am I going to sign it? God, of course. That should put the wind up her.
          Oh look, that nice Mr Davis up the street has phoned in an order for more fertilizer. His pumpkins WILL be interesting. Now, who’s for a cup of tea?”

          As for us, I don’t know. We had a ‘terrorists under the bed’ government campaign a few years back, complete with pamphlets distributed at great cost to every household, telling us to be ‘Alert, not alarmed’ and to report on our neighbours. There was the usual flurry of people making trouble for the bloke who got one over them the last time they had to replace the fence, it was widely mocked by most and seems to have died a natural death.

          We, unfortunately, have our share of red-necked idiots, but I hope we are generally a tolerant and reasonably calm lot.

          • The only thing under my bed is dust, a couple of stray socks, and a large pair of fluffy monster slippers. None of these things are terrorists. Hah, but you are funny Imelda, but you are. If only Cyril had instructed Cheryl to date Engelbert instead. All would have been well.

            Yes, we’re on HIGH ALERT due to the Olympics. This is also due to the American Donut Invasion, so we’re on High Blood Pressure alert, too. These stores have been springing up for cheap, artery clogging donuts. So a “Terrorists are like Jam Donuts” campaign was launched, closely monitored by CCTV and MI5. For England, James?

            Report on your nieghbours? That’s very Stalinist. Julia Gillard never did respond to my Tweet. I asked her what a Prime Minister gets up to on a Sunday. I suggested bowling. Obviously she has more important things to do than answer MY message. Huffff…..

  7. Imelda, no. It’s not okay. You should be able to trust your kids, and if you raised them right, then it wouldn’t be an issue. By raising them right, I mean by being engaged in their lives, interested in what they have to say, etc. And if you don’t trust them on the internet, then put the computer in a common room where you can look over their shoulder every once in a while. At least then, it’s in the open. They know what your intentions are and no one is sneaking around.

    Re employees: there has to be a level of trust. Treat your employees with respect and they’ll give you loyalty. So what if they take a break and peruse the internet once in a while–as long as they do their work and get it done, what does it matter if you give them a little wiggle room. Be flexible with them and they will give you and the company more than 100%. Good employees appreciate flexibility and are willing to work harder because of it. It’s what I practice, so I know for a fact it works.

    • I agree, Monica, and that’s why it shocked me. That they exist and you can buy them with relatively little trouble, I guess I can accept that. But that they should be marketed in such a ‘wholesome’, everyday, ‘what problem’ kind of way really shocked me.

  8. Hmmm, the whole Big Brother thing. Call me paranoid, but it’s one of the reasons I’ve never been that comfortable with Facebook (not that I have anything in particular to hide, it’s just the principle). Tracking employees? I guess if it’s your company, you can do what you want – but employees should at least be made aware of what is or isn’t being tracked. Home is a different story – I think privacy is important for the development of boundaries and trust (which one needs in healthy relationships). Which is not to say internet use shouldn’t be monitored. Does the communal room thing work with teens? I’ve always wondered how that would go down…Bit of a rambling comment, sorry 🙂

    • It’s the kind of subject that leads to thoughts tumbling over themselves, isn’t it, Alarna? With regard to the family room computer, yes, I have seen it work. It’s not so much about constant looking over the shoulder, I don’t think. It’s about establishing clearly that there are boundaries and expectations about both what is done online and the fact that parental authority, care and oversight extend to those activities. It’s like any other part of parenting teens. You have to establish clearly what your expectations are, then trust the kid to respect them and only ground them if they transgress. Putting the internet access in a public place, to establish that they should not be up to anything they would be ashamed of you seeing, is a world away, to me, from private spying on every word they say. You set the boundaries and they have to manage within them. But they should be allowed to bitch about them to their mates! Apart from anything else, it also establishes to their mates what your boundaries are, and that helps your child to stay within them.

  9. Imelda,
    for me things in life are always black & white, there is no grey hue, which could mislead to wrong interpretations. During work time, if people are using company computers, they are under the company’s scrutiny and during that time, employees do not own their time except for lunch. They get pay to produce for someone else. Minors living at home with parents, they are under the parents’ jurisdiction and control until they are 18, no excuses.

    • I agree, Valentina, I’m just not sure that this sort of spying is the best way to ensure compliance. I think I’d like to state the requirement of compliance and encourage it first, before resorting to this sort of thing! Thank you for commenting. It’s precisely because I expected people would have different feelings about it that I posted this. It’s fascinating to get all the shades of response. It takes me back to my uni days when we used to sit in the coffee shop when we should have been studying and have impassioned arguments about the rights and wrongs of the world. I miss that sometimes! 🙂

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