• United States

Why is e-mail content not monitored closely?

Sep 11, 20033 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

* Inappropriate e-mail can get companies into trouble - but they aren’t watching

In 55% of the organizations we recently surveyed, at least one employee has been terminated for a transgression related to e-mail. Recently, a 37-year-old woman who worked for a British financial advisement firm received $16,000 in an out-of-court settlement because her employer did not take seriously her complaint that she was the subject of obscene e-mail sent by her fellow employees. Also fairly recently, an employee of a major financial institution was fired after sending inappropriate e-mail. Some time back, Chevron paid $2.2 million to four employees after they had allegedly received sexually harassing e-mail.

So what? This is old news. But what is interesting, given the ease with which inappropriate e-mail can be sent and the litigious nature of our society, is that more companies don’t do enough to stop this kind of behavior from occurring.

I think one reason for the inaction on this issue is a lack of awareness of the potential severity of the problem. While Chevron certainly must have been made painfully aware of the problem by having to pay out such a major settlement, most companies simply have not had to deal with a case that had such a big payout.

By contrast, virus defenses are likely much better at most companies, particularly smaller ones, than they were a couple of weeks ago due to the Blaster worm, the Sobig virus, and so forth. We all knew of the risks associated with poor antivirus defenses, but these two problems created a sense of urgency that may not have been there before at some companies.

Another reason for the relative lack of action on this issue is that there are not a lot of tools that focus on monitoring internal communications. Some industries, such as financial services, are more heavily regulated with regard to the nature of the content they send internally – and so many companies in those industries have deployed tools to monitor these communications. But most other industries have done relatively little to research, evaluate and deploy these types of tools. Here again, there has been relatively little perceived need to invest in these systems, in the absence of a severe problem to drive home the point.

I believe that tools that monitor internal communications will become more prevalent slowly over time, although a few well-placed lawsuits would likely speed their implementation. I’d appreciate hearing what you have to think on this issue – please drop me a line at