Playboy on iPad renews debate over privacy, workplace rules

Analysts urge IT shops to set clear policies for content on worker-purchased hardware

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Playboy is probably the least objectionable nude content available on the Web, Burden and others said. "But there are many other concerns, including employee productivity when somebody isn't paying attention to work because they are surfing this content," he said.

The former colleague was caught when his laptop broke down and he turned it over to his workplace IT help desk for repairs, Burden said. "IT went through it and found the pictures," he said. "He was an idiot."

While there are some technology protections available to IT shops, most analysts agreed that written corporate policies are needed. The policy would have to address how content is used on a device in the workplace, even if it was bought by the worker and isn't always running over a corporate network.

"This is the kind of thing that not a lot of people have talked about for years," Burden said. "You need a policy that talks about how employees should not get caught with something that embarrasses the company. It has to be explicit and clear."

Burden and Stofega noted that Apple has focused more on the consumer than the business user, while Research in Motion and its coming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will allow IT shops to filter what content workers receive through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Many vendors offer third-party applications that monitor content, but that would only be possible if a device is used on a corporate-linked network, they noted.

The PlayBook is going to have partitions called personas that will allow a separation of corporate and personal content stored on the device, Burden said. When an employee leaves the company, the IT shop would be able to quickly erase corporate data on the device, leaving all the personal data intact. But even that approach wouldn't prevent a worker from downloading and browsing porn, he said.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, argued that the potential problem posed by Playboy access on the iPad is probably not any worse than with other devices. Ultimately, corporations have to rely on a worker's good judgment.

"Playboy is pretty soft porn compared to many sites out there," Gold noted. "If you access it over the corporate network, IT can always block a particular URL or IP address. But ultimately, I think it's about educating users to the company's policies. However, if it's their own device, it's going to be very difficult to get a user to agree to limits. At that point, it's just educating them to be mindful of what they do at work versus on their own time."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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