Companies Restricting Internet Access Shortsighted

Glenn Reynolds argues that the recent trend of companies trying to restrict Internet access to employees, who they fear are wasting hours of company time surfing, are likely to have the opposite of the intended effect.

Well-run companies look at outputs — how well people are doing their jobs — rather than simply trying to make sure that employees look busy. And given that U.S. economic performance over the past few years, as Internet usage has boomed, has been excellent, it’s hard to believe that this websurfing is really threatening productivity. Instead, I suspect, it’s threatening management’s sense of control. (After all, if they really cared about people wasting their time with computer technology, they’d ban PowerPoint, not Web-surfing.)

Further, he and Bill Quick note that EVDO and other technology will soon make it all but impossible for companies to restrict employee access.

And the more intrusive the policies seem, the harder it will be to attract bright, creative employees who are marketable elsewhere: Just the kind of people that companies ought to want to hire and to keep.

Quite right. Unfortunately, as Reynolds notes, the management techniques necessary for getting maximum productivity in a wired workplace are more difficult than the Big Brother method.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mac says:

    Uninformed… as usual I’m afraid.

    I manage the IT department for a medium sized aerospace company, and as a faithful follower of Brother Thomas Peters, nobody is more of a “Theory Y” manager than I am. I could care less what most people do or when they come and go as long as their overall objectives are being met and they’re not causing me any grief.

    But limiting an employees internet access has absolutely nothing to do with Theory X management or “Big Brother” or any of the other medieval omens that pointy heads trot out as fear tokens and fork the sign of the evil eye at.

    It has everything to do with limiting the companies liability.

    In case you haven’t heard, the internet is a dangerous place, full of child pornography, illegal drugs, virus loads that can cripple a businesses network, trojan programs that can appropriate sensitive financial data, and hackers that have been known to infiltrate a network and hold the data they find there hostage.

    By limiting an employees access to the internet we limit our exposure to being held liable for illegal activities by our employees as well as our exposure to virus loads, spyware, malware, trojans and hackers.

    It only takes a single employee and a single inadvertent mouse-click on the wrong website to bring the business to it’s knees and ruin it financially.

    Now… anyone who reads OTB with any frequency understands that y’all have never understood the difference between a corporation and a person – and frequently shill for Big Oil and other corporatists by comparing their rights with individual rights – so I’m a little confused as to why you’ve suddenly switched sides again, but…

    I would have expected y’all to understand a simple fact:

    It’s the companies equipment and network. Not the employees. The company owns it. Every piece. Every desktop PC, every inch of cable, every router, every RJ45 jack. It’s the companies to do as they please with. PERIOD.

    And as to you’re statement about EVDO I think it’s clear that you don’t really understand the technology you’re writing about. EVDO only means that they employee will have to use their own cell phones or PDA’s on their own carriers to access illegal or virus loaded material, and as long as they aren’t exposing my network or my equipment or my legal department to the consequences of their surfing, they are free to just flat knock themselves out.

    As long as their getting their work done that is.

  2. James Joyner says:


    Neither Reynolds nor I am arguing that companies don’t have the right to restrict employees’ access to the ‘Net. We merely argue that it’s shortsighted.

    I’m sure you’re right about security/legal issues, although many of those are solvable by filtering software, anti-virus software, and the like. My office network does that quite well. My wife, who manages IT for a medium sized company, gets it done at her firm, too, without restricting access to the ‘Net entirely.

    I don’t argue–and I don’t think Reynolds does/would, either–that firms shouldn’t take measures to protect themselves from liability. We’re talking about the much more limited issue of companies trying to keep folks off the Web because they find it too diversionary of their time. We think that’s self-defeating, for reasons discussed.

    As to the firm/corporation/person argument, I’m not sure where you’re coming from. It’s not an issue that I discuss here with any frequency. There are legal distinctions between them, although they have a certain “personhood” going back to the Common Law.

  3. penstatr22 says:

    Being one of those young professionals..I think that Mr. Reynolds makes a good point. While having more restricted internet access may save “the company” a few minutes a day, is that time productive anyway? My managers are good and they place demands on me to get jobs done. If I don’t do them I get in trouble or look bad, that is the real motivator. Taking away people’s freedom to surf on benign sites is taken as just another way in which the corporation tries to control you, and it makes the workplace more stifling. 100,000 years of evolution has not bred me to sit in a blue steel cubicle for 40 hours a week doing TPS reports. The few minutes of distraction a little surfing offers is an essential break from the work at hand.

    Mac’s attitude seems standard of that for IT managers. Our IT guys are great, but i’ve worked with Mac’s kind before. It seems like his kind is drawn to IT management, where a guy with computer interests can exercise substantial control over hundreds (or thousands) of professional employees he exists to support. Notice how he first says that information equipment is the company’s (which is true) but then says it is his (My network, My equipment..etc etc). People like him cry “security and viruses and doomsday” in order to secure their jobs installing programs and managing server updates.

  4. Mac says:


    You whine about “taking away peoples freedom to surf benign website” as if the company were coming into you’re [sic] home and limiting your personal surfing on your personal equipment.

    But like most cubicle monkeys you hoot and fling a lot of poo because you’re being restricted from using resources that don’t belong to you in the first place.

    I’ve seen you’re [sic] kind before too I’m afraid. You’re the guy who the logs constantly show attempting to access prohibited sites, and e-mails 5 meg videos of drunk college chicks back and forth to your frat buddies — causing the Exchange server to lay on the computer room floor twitching with it’s [sic] eyes rolled back in it’s [sic] head while important e-mails that are critical to the business go unsent and unreceived.

    Unfortunately you’re also the guy who, although you’re only 1 of 150 employees, is causing me to expend 20% or 30% of an entire IT departments resources scraping viruses off your desktop, and trying to keep the malware advertising Trojans you downloaded along with that Free”Girls Gone Wild” Screensaver from dragging the network bandwidth to it’s [sic] knees for the third time this week.

    There’s one in every department.

    And –here’s the real shocker — it’s YOU’RE [sic] fault that access has to be restricted for everyone in your entire department. Because if it weren�t for the one stinker in the bunch that can’t be trusted, most departments could be allowed a lot less restrictive access to the internet with the proper training in safe use and a basic toolset to keep them on the right path.

    Oh — by the way. I talked to your boss. He seemed really, really unhappy.

    Apparently you forgot the cover on your TPS report. Again.

    Edited per commenter’s request to remove errant computer symbols added in by a software bug.

  5. Mac says:

    In the name of all that’s holy Mr. J, PLEASE take the whooping that the comments script gave me off that last post. LOL.

    It ate my quotes and double quotes.

    I know I’m antagonistic sometimes, but… I’d do the same for you dude. LOL. I swear.

    Good gawd.

  6. James Joyner says:

    It’s a site-wide problem with quotes and whatnot being pasted in.