As smartphones, iPads and other portable devices allow consumers to literally join themselves at the hip to the Internet, it's increasingly common to catch people checking email, updating Facebook or even peeking at X-rated sites just about anywhere.
Including at work.
A survey on employees' Web-surfing habits found 52 percent of the 2,500 people queried were pretty sure others use their personal devices to look for new jobs and 42 percent thought people use them to look at porn.
Only 3 percent admitted to watching porn themselves while at work, but 43 percent had watched online videos such as sports events, viral videos and even full-length feature films, according to the survey conducted in June by Harris Interactive on behalf of video streaming company Qumu of San Bruno, Calif.
Considering that 63 million Americans were smartphone users as of February -- a 60 percent increase over 12 months, according to digital marketing research company comScore -- the problem is only poised to grow.
With a new understanding of mobile technologies as weapons of mass distraction, corporate leaders are rushing to update employee policy manuals as tech firms scramble to lead innovation in mobile-filtering software.
Companies that long ago invested in blocking and firewall technologies for personal computers will likely seek out similar protections for mobile technologies soon, according to Martin Giglio, communications practice leader for the Pittsburgh office of human resources consulting firm Buck Consultants.
"The growth of personal devices, especially things like smartphones increasing in numbers, has basically become a fact of life. Iphones and iPads are issued by companies to help employees do their jobs better, and it's reasonable to expect they're also using them for nonwork-related actions to some extent," he said.
One immediate concern that corporations will address is decreased bandwidth, he said. Lost productivity while an employee watches cat videos on YouTube is one thing, but companies can see a decline in overall productivity if an individual's surfing affects bandwidth in an entire office.
ContentWatch Inc., a Salt Lake City-based company specializing in online content filtering and parental control software such as NetNanny, is working on technology that allows corporations to control mobile devices as easily as they control office desktops. The company is set to unveil a mobile security suite and Internet filtering for mobile devices during the International Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association's Wireless trade show in May 2012.
ContentWatch CEO Russ Warner said the goal is to allow companies to apply content filters similar to those used in corporate networks to Android and iOS mobile devices distributed to employees. In addition to restricting sites, the technology will block access to certain mobile applications, restrict the time an employee uses a certain site and can even be set to drop restrictions on devices at the end of the workday.
Despite the increase in mobile devices in the workplace, not all businesses are focused on the issue. Warner, who has spoken to several companies, said only "conscientious employers" had shown interest in the technology so far.
"I've heard some company leaders say, 'I don't care if my employees look at porn, I just don't want them doing it at work,"' he said. "It comes down to if an employer has a sense of how often employees waste time."
But, beyond use of time, employers should monitor mobile devices for content to avoid liability in the event of illegal activity, he said.
"Imagine if I buy an employee an iPad, and (he's) on a plane watching child pornography. That's a felony. You've provided a person with a device to commit a felony," he said. "I don't know where that's going to go in the future, but companies are going to want to take action for liability reasons."
(Contact Deborah M. Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)