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Access Denied!

Bijoy AK | February 25, 2003 14:52 IST

The excitement had just begun as hosts South Africa prepared to take on the West Indies in the opening match of the World Cup. Gaurav, a software engineer at a reputed firm, hurriedly finished lunch and headed to his table to catch the action live online. 

Access DeniedBut he was in for a rude shock. This cricket enthusiast discovered he was unable to access any cricket site as they had been blocked by his office.

Investigating further, I checked with the HR department of another reputed software firm about their policy regarding cricket access online during working hours. The receptionist informed me: "No need to contact the HR. There is a television placed in the corridor that leads to the rest room. Our staff check the scores there."

Digging deeper into Internet access policies at well-known companies, a contrasting pattern emerges. Those already filtering and blocking unwanted sites at the workplace are quick to put anything related to cricket in their 'most unwanted' list. Others with a softer approach to filtering, but aware of the cricket craze, are blocking all cricket-related sites. 

Most of these companies reason that following cricket online at work affects staff productivity.

While some software companies and banks are tight-lipped on this subject, insiders confirm that cricket-related keywords and URLs are being blocked to prevent employees from getting distracted. 

"This is our policy. It has been in effect in our organisation for quite a while. We have not introduced it just during the World Cup. The word 'cricket' is just one of the various keywords our proxies filter," an HR executive at a multinational company disclosed.

"India is not doing well. Who wants to follow our country's World Cup fortunes during work?" asks Radha, HR manager, Netit Technology, a software firm, in a lighter vein. "Of course, the impulse to continuously check out scores online will distract the employee. That is not happening in our organisation since we have given Net access only to select employees," she reveals.

Babulal Banchal, HR executive, Godrej Infotech, a software company, says the company follows the same policy with a privileged few getting Internet access. "The Web coverage of cricket matches will affect work with employees constantly checking scores," he says.

On the other hand, Sanjeev, senior HR executive, Zenith Infotech, a software company, feels an employee needs the element of leisure and fun during work hours. He defends the free use of the Internet in the office, saying: "Blocking or filtering of something like Web coverage of cricket matches will not help productivity. Instead, it will send wrong signals to the employee."

"It depends upon the employee and his professionalism. We are not doing anything that prevents employees from accessing cricket sites during office hours," says Namrata Mehta, HR executive, Mainstream Technologies, a human resources consultancy.

"There are many ways of getting updated news if a person really wants it," feels Shiraz Khan, vice-president, Software Algorithms, another software company. "If he has been denied the privilege of online access, he will turn to other means. He will definitely get restless and this will affect his work."

Atul Takle, vice-president, corporate communications, Tata Consultancy Services, has another concern: Internet traffic during match hours. "Most of our employees have Net access and there are some who like to keep track of the cricket scores. The issue is when too many people log on, the bandwidth gets choked."

Some companies go to another extreme and even ask their employees to switch off cell phones at work. But a few renegade employees surpass their proxies. One such employee spoke to us on condition of anonymity. He works for a company that has strict rules on Internet access and explains how employees bypass the proxy server using tools like Peacefire and Surfola. For them, beating the filters is a challenge and they are determined to find a way out!

Filtering and blocking

Network administrators can constantly monitor the surfing habits of employees using filtering and blocking software. These software programmes are used to prevent the employee from accessing certain sites at work. According to a recent survey of surfing habits at the workplace reported in the BBC, 1,000 workers each spent an hour a day on the Internet costing an average company about $35 million (about Rs 1.75 billion) a year. With the help of the software programme, the proxy can filter unwanted sites either by recording keywords related to those sites or the names of the Web sites.

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