Office workers who spend many hours at the computer every day have many things that might distract them: checking new photos on social networks, looking for discounts in online stores, passing some senseless online tests, etc. As one can imagine, employers are not happy with that, and they monitor the online activity of their employees using various methods, from physical access to the computer to implementing complex software systems.
Of course, it’s tough to work hour after hour without any interruption. Even a five-minute break can improve productivity during the day. So, is there any way not to handle being responsible for something that your employer thinks is illegal? Let’s review some ways to hide your Internet activity from your employer.
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Why do employers monitor your online activity?
Most employers monitor their employees’ internet activity for a reason. One logical explanation of why tracking is implemented is due to compliance with security regulations. These regulations force companies (primarily financial institutions or government-related) to monitor all their internal networks to prevent fraud, hacks and to have a possibility to track down the problem if it occurs.
Another reason that might be outdated in today’s world but still exists is the lack of trust of their employees. Companies try to measure employee productivity by monitoring software and internet usage and active and idle times. They track the time spent online, the websites visited, or files downloaded, which does not feel secure or private in any case.
They fear that employees steal confidential data.
In many companies, three is a high risk that employees who can access confidential data share it with someone else. Of course, it can be pretty challenging to find out who that is. Moreover, we don’t see through people when hiring them. Even the most experienced HR can miss an unreliable candidate who will systematically harm the company.
They fear that you waste a lot of working time.
Not every worker spends the whole day doing what he is supposed to do. Someone is a typical procrastinator. Some need to get kicked in the pants, while others are just lazy bones and browse unrelated matters for hours during their working time.
Naturally, such workers can affect a company’s performance, and that is the reason why they need to be identified and neutralised as soon as possible.
They are not sure what remote workers do all day long.
It’s obvious why companies monitor remote or outsourced specialists. They are not in the office, and it’s not easy to see what they do during the day. Today, there is a trend: when the company hires remote workers, they control their activity somehow.
They fear you can visit phishing/malicious websites.
In light of recent virus attacks, most businesses are scared about getting some malware on the office computer. And it is not a matter of one specific computer — you can easily infect the whole network. That is the reason why companies control the websites visited by the employees.
Mostly, they block the malicious domains using firewalls. However, thousands of new fake resources are built every day — it’s a high risk to visit one of them. Should we remind you of the consequences?
They worry about high bandwidth use.
The Internet with unlimited bandwidth is usually costly. So, many companies cannot afford a high-speed connection in their offices. That’s why employers control how the employees use the bandwidth. It’s one thing when you use it for work, and absolutely another when you watch your favourite shows on YouTube.
How do employers control your activity?
There are a few ways that employees’ internet activity can be monitored, and one of them is acting as a man-in-the-middle. The employer’s network can be set up in such a way that it routes all internet traffic via a rogue proxy that can intercept any traffic and see the contents of it. The router or a proxy server could be inside a company building or in the data centre. Usually, a network administrator who can access the server remotely or physically can see all internet traffic on the employer’s network.
All internet activity can be seen on the man-in-the-middle server that the employer owns – times when you made a connection to the website, did you stream any videos, played a game or downloaded a file – everything is seen.
Sometimes when companies that do not have an IT department or resources dedicated to monitoring their employees have made contracts with their Internet Service Provider that plays a role of a man-in-the-middle and regularly reports on the online activities made from the company’s network. An ISP can see it all – IP addresses, connection times, websites or files downloaded and other data.
It feels unsafe to know that your data can be tracked and be leveraged by your employer, but there is a way to hide your online browsing at the workplace.
There are several possible ways to control you:
- Traffic monitoring to see what resources you visit. To surf online, you use the corporate network. Even when you open HTTPS-encrypted websites, your employer will know you did that.
- The IT or HR teams can physically take your computer to check the browsing history or install any apps.
- The IT department can copy your hard drive and then compare it with its state after your shift.
- Use special software to track and record your activity, like keyloggers and spyware or apps that take screenshots at random periods.
Work computer or personal device?
In the office, you mainly use the device provided by your workplace. In that case, your employer has the right to check your activity. Typically, you are not allowed to use it for personal purposes. At the same time,
- your manager will have remote access to your computer at any time;
- the IT department, HR manager, or your supervisor will be able to access the device physically after the working day and check everything you did during the day;
- The company can install some tracking software.
In most cases, you cannot do anything about that. However, if you bring your device with you, the employer has no right to check it. Anyway, don’t forget that if you work remotely, the employer will also control you somehow.
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What Are the Rules For Employee Monitoring?
Different companies may have different rules, terms, and conditions to monitor employees. Based on where the company is located, the country or state laws can also affect this framework. But in general, there are three standard rules that most organisations follow:
- Only the office network and devices are monitored. Employers cannot track your device or network, like browsing on your phone’s cellular network.
- Employees are monitored only during office hours.
- All terms and conditions must be fully disclosed to the employees, and their consent must be taken.
How Do Employers Track Their Workers’ Online Activity?
Employee monitoring works a bit differently for an office setting and remote work setting, so let’s look at both cases.
Monitoring Employees in an Office Setting/On-Site
At your workplace, employers mainly monitor the activity on office devices and networks.
Tracking Through the HR Team or IT Team
Employers might get an HR or IT team to do the dirty work for them. In other words, employers might ask HR managers or members of the IT team to go through your browsing history after you have clocked off for the day.
They might even check your downloads to see if you have any unauthorised apps or software installed on your device.
Tracking Through the Device
Most companies usually install some tracking software on office devices, which keeps track of all online activity on the particular device.
Going incognito won’t work because it hides your history from the browser and not the entire device, so the software can still track it.
Tracking Through the Network
Companies also install a layer of tracking programs directly on their entire network. That way, any device that connects to the company’s network can be monitored.
In such cases, even if you’re browsing from your phone, as long as it’s connected to the company’s network, your employer can see the browsing history.
They can see every traffic that goes in and out of their network.
This usually happens with private office networks, which can only be accessed by the office staff.
Tracking Through Your Computer’s Hard Drive
Employers might get the IT team to remove the hard drive from your computer and make a copy of it before you begin working.
With the copy, they will be able to detect any suspicious activity after you have clocked off by just checking your computer’s hard disk against the document that they created for any notable differences.
Anything suspiciously different, and you will be subsequently called out.
Tracking Through Ethical Hacking Tools
There are hacking tools that companies can use in an entirely ethical manner on company devices and networks. Some of these tools include keyloggers and spyware that keep track of employee activities.
There also exists software that takes random screenshots during arbitrary intervals of time to help companies catch unproductive or ‘distracted’ workers.
Monitoring Remote Employees
The ongoing global pandemic has forced companies to embrace remote work, making it necessary for employers to track their small teams. If your company has provided a device (laptop or phone) for work, the monitoring software will be installed on it.
If you’re using your device for work, you’ll be asked to install the software on the device so that it can be monitored during working hours.
You may have concerns that you’ll be monitored even after work hours, but the monitoring software has a check-in, check-out system.
It starts tracking your activity only after you sign in to the program and stops tracking once you sign out.
Here is a brief rundown of everything that your employer can see:
How To Hide Browsing History – Complete Guide
Use Browser’s Privacy Mode
While using a computer at a public place or the one shared by others, your browsing history is automatically stored. To avoid such a situation, you must activate the browser’s privacy mode before performing any activity that allows you to surf the internet. Doing so blocks the third-party cookies tracking your activity between different sites. The first-party cookies that the site keeps as proof of your presence are also wiped out when you leave the area, thereby preventing other people from seeing clues of your company.
All you have to do is select private or incognito mode from the browser’s toolbar.
Delete The Cookies
The removal of third-party cookies is a way to prevent your browsing history from being tracked, but something known as supercookies is a more significant threat. Sites that run Flash are generally those with some video stuff, and they do keep the Flash cookies (or supercookies).
These could retain much more significant amounts of data and could reproduce those deleted third-party cookies.
Supercookies record the path through which you move from one browser to another. The way to remove supercookies and other cookies could be CCleaner, which you have to download. If you don’t want to do that, be vigilant, as you could be signed infrequently many times by a site using third-party cookies.
Restrict Browser From Sending Location Details
Often the browser locates your presence at a particular place and transfers that information to the site you are visiting. They usually keep this data to give you more targeted and personalised search results. Moreover, it could also be used to enhance the ads displayed by advertisers.
To avoid such a situation, you could refuse the location request given by the browser when you visit a site. However, to remove such requests permanently, you could follow these steps;
- Chrome – Go to Preferences > Settings > Advanced > Content settings, and choose the option of Disallow or Ask for the request of location whenever you visit a site.
- Safari – Preferences > Privacy, and select ‘Disable Location Services’ or ‘Ask.’
- Firefox – Type “about config” in the URL bar and after that ‘geo. You are enabled’. To avoid Firefox’s repeated requests for sending your location to any website you visit, double-click to disable the site entirely.
- Microsoft Edge – To turn off location requests, you will have to do it from the central computer settings. Then go to Privacy and choose the location option. Now turn off Microsoft Edge.
Search engines like Google have heavy traffic on them for which they have to respond. Also, the result given by Google differs from person to person depending upon the user’s data. In some ways, it is helpful for us as we get advanced results according to our needs. However, it keeps us away from certain other web pages containing helpful information regarding the topic.
To restrict Google from doing this, access Search Tools > Results >Verbatim. However, a more efficient way to avoid your activity from being tracked is to move to a private search engine, such as DuckDuckGo. The ads are also restricted while browsing privately.
Avoid Google Tracking
Google provides you with many of its services, including Google Calendar, Gmail, Chrome and others. With all these one-click browsing folders, we could quickly get the information or your desired content at a breakneck speed. But it’s also damaging for us, as Google could track your activities in many ways through your emails, searching activities, etc. that allow it to present personalised results.
Also, this data of yours could help them display interrupting advertisements. You could avoid this problem by getting out of “shared endorsement” in Ads and turning off Ad Personalisation. This will not prevent ads from showing up, but it will restrict them to ones that are not personalised according to your browsing history.
Now, download Google Analytic Browser Add-on to stop Google from tracking your activity and creating an ad profile.
Stop Social Sites From Tracking You
For social sites, it’s effortless to track our interests, as we have immense information and personal interest activities on such sites as Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and others. Also, these sites follow our activities even after we have logged out of our accounts. They do it through the sharing or like button we click on.
To avoid personalised ads on social networking sites, you could follow these steps:
- For Facebook – Go to Facebook settings > Adverts to control whether ads are targeted based on your clicks in and out of Facebook.
- For Twitter – Access settings > Security and Privacy. Then uncheck the box for “Tailor Ads.”
- For LinkedIn – Go to Privacy and Settings > Accounts > Managing Advertising Preferences.
This process will stop personalized ads from appearing, but your activity will still be tracked for security reasons.
Almost every internet site tracks you by different methods, including cookies. These are present on distinctive objects on the web page, such as ads, comment sections and sponsored links.
Advertisers who belong to an ad network place cookies on a site to get data about when someone visits it.
These advertisers extract your interests and preferences through this data and share it with members of that ad network to better advertise their product.
To stop such activities, you could change it from browser privacy settings and turn on the Do Not Track option. You could also opt-out of tracking at the Network Advertising Initiative and Digital Advertising Alliance.
You would still observe ads on web pages, yet they are not personalised.
Stop Every Tracking Activity By Ad Blocker Plugins
You can’t confirm that your activity is being tracked or not after you have opted out. This is because many sites do not cater to such requests. However, downloading browser plugins for anti-tracking purposes could block all sites from tracking.
Plugins, such as Privacy Badger, Ghostery, or Disconnect, stop all intrusive ads by blocking cookies and prevent advertisers from building your profile based on your internet activities.
Using Vpn Could Help
Your browsing activity could also be tracked through your IP address. All the above options are beneficial at keeping you away from marketers by blocking tracking cookies.
For further protection, a VPN is an excellent anonymity tool that masks your actual IP address and assigns you a new IP. This protects your location and browsing information from being exposed as your real identity is not on display.
It would also help unblock sites that are restricted and banned in some countries.
Remain Anonymous Through A Private Browser
A private browser with plugins, proxies, and setting changes could give you an excellent and anonymous browsing experience. Private browsers protect you from being tracked and bring all the features mentioned above. You could enable proxy by turning it on from the toolbar in a personal browser.
Epic Privacy Browser, for instance, is based on Chrome but with specialised settings that could stop trackers following your activities. You will still see ads without being tracked, and your homepage will show the information about how many trackers have tried to observe your action.
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