What Can Employers Really See on a BYOD Smartphone or Tablet?

The move to a BYOD workplace means an employee's work life and personal life coexist on a single device. As employees are asked to sign strict user policies, are they also signing away their right to privacy? Here's a look at what a company can and cannot see on personal devices.

Wed, July 17, 2013

CIO — The thought of a CIO turning to spying technology to peek inside a personal iPhone makes people furious. They fret about an employer remotely reading personal emails and text messages, seeing personal photos and videos, and listening to personal voicemail.

But they would be wrong to worry about such things.

At least that's the message from Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy at MobileIron, a mobile device management software developer.

"There's a ton of confusion out there, and so the trust gap has widened," says Rege. "Employees don't really know what their employer can and can't see. They're just guessing."

[ Related: BYOD Creates Trust Gap Between Workers and Employers ]

Such is life in the brave new world of "bring your own devices" (BYOD), where work life and personal life collide on a single device. BYOD has become a flashpoint for privacy: Employees are pressured into signing strict user policies heavily weighted toward a company's legal right to access and monitor devices, while giving an employee's expectations of privacy short shrift.

Only three out of 10 employees completely trust their employee to keep personal information private, according to a MobileIron-commissioned survey of 3,000 workers across the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. The flip side is that the rest aren't so sure.

[ Related: CIO Takes Action to Solve BYOD's Privacy Problem ]

The survey sought to learn more about the trust gap in the enterprise, but what it really found was mass confusion. It's a dangerous scenario: Confusion can quickly escalate from head-shaking to finger-pointing to employee lawsuits claiming privacy rights violations.

Making matters worse, tech companies and the media have played a role in causing this confusion. Consider this Sprint television commercial showing a boss viewing compromising pictures of an employee on an iPhone:

It's not clear what is happening. The boss doesn't seem like the iPhone-carrying type, so why is he holding the employee's iPhone? If this is the boss's iPhone, how does he have access to pictures that the employee uploaded? While the commercial is about data plans, the scary image pours fuel on the fire of confusion.

Hoping to clear up some misconceptions, CIO.com talked with MobileIron's Rege to find out exactly what a company can and cannot see on a BYOD smartphone or tablet.

Two out of five employees in the survey don't think the employer can see anything--and they're wrong. Company email and data flow through corporate servers, "so absolutely your company can see it," Rege says. If you're connected to the corporate Wi-Fi network, the company knows what you're doing.

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