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Ask Slashdot: Should Employers Ban Smartphones? 510

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-phone-for-you dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Due to a concern that smartphones (and other electronic devices) could be infected with malware and used to spy on sensitive information, my employer has recently banned all personal electronic devices from their spaces. The concern comes from articles like this one. My question to slashdot readers: How reasonable is this concern? How can this sort of malware be prevented from showing up on our devices? Is there a way to educate employees about preventing this sort of thing rather than banning the devices altogether? This current reality is that people have started to rely on having their smartphones with them at all times for things such as receiving emergency calls from day cares and schools, making personal calls during normal working hours (i.e. to make doctor's appointments), accessing password managers, and scheduling calendar events."
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Ask Slashdot: Should Employers Ban Smartphones?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:17AM (#42504973)

    You have asked an audience that knows just how ingrained smartphones are to our everyday lives. The last half of your question is a "given."

    The burden of proof is on the employer to show that no other mitigating measure can address the risks. Summarily banning child protecting, emergency-aleviating technology, not to mention the tools with which we coordinate the rest of our lives, is truly bad form and will bite the employer more often than they know.

    If you are working with sensitive documents, these people will remove the camera from your iPhone for $20:
    http://www.iresq.com/iphone-camera-removal.html [iresq.com]
    Want to do the whole office? A 79 cent roll of electrical tape will do the trick.

    The problems are solvable and worth solving. That management favors solutions that are simply a matter of writing policy, is in their nature, so don't sit in the dark and bitch, fix the bulb.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eightbitgnosis (1571875) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:19AM (#42504999) Homepage
    Would you ban laptops at work for the same reason?
  • Suck it up. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gti_guy (875684) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:22AM (#42505033)
    Surprisingly smartphones have not been around forever and little Johnny & Sally still managed to make it thru daycare okay. If there's an EMERGENCY, outsiders can call your employer's main number and ask for you. You get paid to work, not deal with personal matters.
  • by alphatel (1450715) * on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:26AM (#42505091)
    Anything that can breach security in a government setting is worth withholding indefinitely until a practical policy can be approved which reduces risk to near zero.
    For unrelated/unregulated industries, this approach is unreliable, impractical, unprofitable, and let's face it, just plain stupid.
  • Re:Suck it up. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nospam007 (722110) * on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:27AM (#42505099)

    " You get paid to work, not deal with personal matters."

    Amen brother!
    This view illustrates that people at work are busy organizing their private lives, making doctor's appointments, calling family, brokers, schools, daycare, tweeting nonsense and updating their online presence and other crap instead of doing their fucking job and they apparently feel entitled to it.

  • by alen (225700) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:29AM (#42505129)

    if you work in a sensitive area then expect high security
    if you work for a US GOVERNMENT agency around classified information then you're probably following these rules already
    if you work in a start up with cool tech you might expect something like this

    if you work in your average workplace no one is going to care

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:34AM (#42505209)

    The burden of proof is on the employer to show that no other mitigating measure can address the risks.

    My current employer has banned all personal cellphones and personal laptops for some time. It is really not that hard to get around, and the burden is not on them to prove anything. You are paid to work and presumably want your job. If not having your pacifier with you at all times makes you that uncomfortable, find a different job. Or you can give out your work number for emergencies or set your cell phone to automatically forward calls during business hours to your desk phone. If you need to make a personal call that you do not want to/cant make from your desk line, go out to your car during lunch and make it.

    That management favors solutions that are simply a matter of writing policy, is in their nature, so don't sit in the dark and bitch, fix the bulb.

    So if a concern is the microphone on the phone you have no problem filling that with epoxy?

  • by PPH (736903) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:35AM (#42505219)

    ... when I worked for Boeing, this was their company policy. No cameras, radios, or recording devices were allowed on company property. Although this was necessary in areas where classified DoD work was being done, they just applied this policy to all facilities. As cell phones and PDAs with cameras andd recording capabilities became commonplace, they pretty much gave up on enforcing the 'no devices allowed' rule (probably still in force in actual secure areas).

    I would consider them (Boeing) and others in their line of business to have about the most conservative position on such technology. Seeing as how they have pretty much given up on such rules, I don't see how any other employers expect to get away with them.

    Also, if employees are going to steal proprietary data (for which I'm sure there is a company policy prohibiting said activity), sneaking a camera, USB drive or whatever onto the property in violation of rules is not going to be a deterrent.

  • by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:35AM (#42505227) Homepage Journal

    If you need to make a personal call that you do not want to/cant make from your desk line, go out to your car during lunch and make it.

    What do you recommend for people who use public transit instead of driving to work?

  • Good luck (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ironicsky (569792) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:36AM (#42505231) Journal
    If, after 20+ years of personal computers we still can't stop people from accidentally downloading malware, good luck preventing it on smart phones and other portable devices. The problem is, and always will be, the ignorance of the user.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:39AM (#42505265) Journal

    A lot of businesses do in fact ban laptops that aren't company-owned.

    Exactly. You have a work phone number in exactly the same way that you have a work computer.

    I don't really think "but daycare and school" makes for a compelling argument.
    They have your work number on file, let them use it.

    All the other reasons listed are ones of convienence, not necessity.

  • Re:Suck it up. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:46AM (#42505353)

    Surprisingly smartphones have not been around forever and little Johnny & Sally still managed to make it thru daycare okay.

    You make it sound as if the advent of smartphones was the only thing that changed since the fifties. Guess what, people are now required to be "time flexible", and I guess the society changed in many other ways that make it desirable to be reachable.

    If there's an EMERGENCY, outsiders can call your employer's main number and ask for you. You get paid to work, not deal with personal matters.

    And that switch to the desk phone makes that call somehow...impersonal?

  • Re:Suck it up. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:49AM (#42505397)

    No, I'm on salary. I get paid to make my skills available to my employer and complete the work I need to do. If you want to pull that bullshit you make me hourly, and do not bother me outside the 9-5 unless you want me to bill you for it. Oh, and expect the additional annoyance from me like reimbursement for all the home electrical power being used to charge your company cellphone and run my company laptop. Ditto for ISP charges.

    Asshat.

  • by PmanAce (1679902) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:52AM (#42505447) Homepage

    Summarily banning child protecting, emergency-aleviating technology

    What happened to giving them your work place number like you know, your parents did? Children were just as safe before smart phones...

    not to mention the tools with which we coordinate the rest of our lives

    I don't agree with this at all. 10+ years ago we didn't use smart phones and we coordinated the rest of our lives just fine.

    The problems are solvable and worth solving. That management favors solutions that are simply a matter of writing policy, is in their nature, so don't sit in the dark and bitch, fix the bulb.

    I think management just wants you to do your job and not have you sit there browsing facebook on your phone, texting your friends or calling for appointments while you are getting paid.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:58AM (#42505535) Journal

    My god, this attitude is amazing, what primitive part of the world did you grow up in? Most normal employers realize that work and private live are not so easily seperated and simply allow the two to intertwine. If I ask someone to stay late because of deadlines, can I then deny them time to make calls during office hours to arrange private things? Hell, this must be an American thing. Do you also object to people using the company printer?

    Of course, normal people realize there is a line, you can print out a form, your CV is a bit touchy and you do NOT print out a thousand copies of your novel but come on!

    If your tried that master slave attitude in Europe, you would find yourself soon with no employees left.

    Unless there is a VERY real need for security, everyone carries a mobile phone with them in Europe. The idea you shouldn't answer a personal call during office hours is just so 19th century. Come on, join us in the future, we got cookies!

    Ten to one this gti_guy doesn't have a job, lives in a trailer on government assistance and whines about all those leeches living of the state.

    People good enough at their job to have one know they are valuable and companies are willing to keep them happy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @11:59AM (#42505541)

    No, it most certainly is not. Salary negotiated by both parties is indeed enough compensation because you were involved in its negotiation. The number of hours per week you owe to your employer is part of your employment contract. Beyond that contract is not covered and therefore NOT COVERED. I am happy to go above and beyond for a company I enjoy working for, but my rights are my rights.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:06PM (#42505635)

    The burden of proof is on the employer to show that

    Bullshit. You have no need for a personal cell phone while on the clock. If you have it listed as an emergency contact number then take 30 seconds and figure out how to use your call forwarding features.

  • by shawn(at)fsu (447153) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:10PM (#42505683) Homepage

    Removing smart phones is the easiest and most secure way to handle these issues. The burden of proof is to prove that there exists ways that are just as secure. For example If you work in a DoD environment then you have to accept the possibility that you're not going to be able to bring your device in the building. It sucks sometimes sure but if the risk is information coming in or going out then this helps mitigate it a great deal.

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:20PM (#42505785) Homepage Journal

    Burden of proof? WTF is that all about? We have problems with phones in our plant. They haven't been banned - yet. But we have problems with people's attention being distracted from their jobs. An issue that has never been addressed at our plant, is the possibility of "sensitive" and "secret" documents being recorded. Trade secrets are trade secrets, easily recorded and sold to whoever might be interested in them when everyone carries a phone with a camera.

    There is no "burden of proof" - if management becomes aware of risk, they can ban anything and everything that they deem to be a part of the risk.

    We also suffer from vandalism. So far, it has been confined to physical vandalism of equipment. Some day, some bright boy is going to figure out that he can plug in a WIFI, and use his smart phone to introduce anything he likes to the computerized equipment. The older equipment may not recognize a WIFI device, but the newer machines certainly do.

    Bad form, you say? This is the United States, in the year 2012. Management has dismissed half of the lessons ever learned about keeping personnel happy. They don't give a damn about happy employees. There are four or five applicants for every job that opens up. They don't NEED to keep more than some key personnel happy. Even junior management is subject to layoff at any time.

    Bad form and burden of proof, you say. Either you are a very lucky person, and have a really great job where management actually thinks about you and your needs - or you're stuck in the mid-1980's. Nowadays, management doesn't even measure their turnover rates among labor, skilled labor, and trades people. Moving up the chain of command, there is a little superficial "caring" shown to the engineers, and a little more "caring" for junior management.

    More, the states are backing up employers far more than they did in past decades. I think it was Michigan that just became a "right to work" state. The employer need prove nothing - the employer rules, and you obey. There is no civil right being infringed if the employer bans your electronic toys during work hours.

  • by realityimpaired (1668397) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:27PM (#42505861)

    They pay you to work, not to sit at your desk playing farmville or tower defense on your cell phone.

    My office has noticed a genuine drop in the quality and quantity of work that gets done by folks who screw around with their cell phones when they're supposed to be working, and has banned them at your desks. Put it on stun, and put it in a drawer. On your own time (breaks/lunches), it's allowed to come out, but as a courtesy to other people who *are* supposed to be working, they ask that any phone calls/whatever you make be done in the hall, lunch room, or outside.

    How is that intrusive, or corporate feudalism?

    And for any emergencies, I have a company-provided e-mail which can be used, and I have a desk phone which people can call.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:30PM (#42505921)

    If you need to make a personal call that you do not want to/cant make from your desk line, go out to your car during lunch and make it.

    What do you recommend for people who use public transit instead of driving to work?

    Turn it off, if your boss has a problem with that then he can provide a secured locker for you to place it in instead. Your phone has call forwarding, send your calls to your work phone. Fuck, it's a miracle anybody managed to find their dick to take a piss prior to having a phone the way you idiots talk.

  • by schnell (163007) <meNO@SPAMschnell.net> on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:32PM (#42505957) Homepage

    This whole question is based on a false premise that personal and corporate smartphones can't be managed. The answer is very simple:

    Are these work-mandated/provided smartphones that have access to the company e-mail/intranet system? If so, then the company needs to invest in Mobile Device Management (MDM) software like Good, MobileIron or even a BlackBerry BES and lock down which apps end users can install, what can be downloaded or forwarded, etc.

    Are these personal smartphones? Don't provide any access to the company e-mail/intranet or any other system on non-company devices so whatever malware you decided to install has no impact on the company.

    Whether personal smartphones are allowed in a business should not even be a question unless you work in an environment where employees taking pictures of documents, people or facilities is a security risk (the government has a lot of these environments), and generally in those cases you are not allowed electronic devices in those restricted facilities, period - work or personal.

    BTW the linked Washington Times article (quality news source, there) describes a proof of concept app but does not describe the platform(s), attack/delivery vectors or anything else about how you would actually hijack a phone in this way. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't get approved in Google Play, the iOS App Store, or any other reputable app source. So if your employers are afraid of that, then they need to up their med dosages.

  • Re:Suck it up. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyYar (622222) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:36PM (#42505999)

    Am I too old or something? We always ran our personal lives from work, but it used to be a lot more invasive. You couldn't take care of many things online, so you had to leave work during working hours to take care of it. Any time you needed customer service, you had to use the telephone at work. You'd have errands to run, so you would either come in late, take an extended lunch, or leave early. Expecting a call? You had to hover near your desk so that you wouldn't miss it.

    I won't defend tweeting, updating Facebook, and the like - but I think that most employers recognize that letting people take care of some personal stuff while at work ultimately improves productivity.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:46PM (#42506127) Journal

    It's quite a different world ten years ago.

    The technology may be different, but the mechanics of our daily lives haven't changed much since the wired telephone, refrigerators, and cars became ubiquitous.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:47PM (#42506135)

    You would be out of a job soon. Threaten me with violence and HR and the police will be hearing about it. I would also be calling my lawyer to prepare for that hostile workplace/unlawful termination suit.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:50PM (#42506177)

    That is the tradeoff from expecting people to take care of business during personal time.

    It cuts both ways. You want me on call 24x7 for a week and available if you really need me other times, then I will be making personal calls on the clock.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:59PM (#42506297)

    That will be fun when one is stolen or misplaced. I am sure the company will love replacing them.

  • by mycroft16 (848585) on Monday January 07, 2013 @12:59PM (#42506301)
    "10+ years ago we didn't use smart phones and we coordinated the rest of our lives just fine." This argument is ridiculous. It assumes that nothing in the world has changed, which is obviously flawed. It's like saying that people didn't use cars in the 1830's and still got around just fine, so why should we be using them now? Progress and innovations are made to make things easier and more accessible. Rather than carry a 12 month calendar around everywhere you go, or a planner as a separate book, now you have your email, calendar, to dos, notes, voice recordings, phone, etc all in a single device that fits in your palm. No more need for a briefcase worth of crap. Just a single phone. Sure people got along find 10+ years ago, using the best that was available to them at the time. And so should we.
  • by Thorodin (1999352) on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:01PM (#42506327)
    Nice, 1950's management style you got there. You do realize that threats reduce productivity to the minimum necessary to keep a job?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @01:13PM (#42506489)

    That sounds like an awful company to work for. Fact is, employers demand longer and longer hours for less pay. People still need to do other shit in their lives despite those demands. So a complete ban on personal computers, personal internet use is just controlling and mean. Enlightened employers get higher productivity from their staff by just not being dicks. Not so hard to work out, is it?

  • by sjames (1099) on Monday January 07, 2013 @02:13PM (#42507253) Homepage

    I know this may come as a surprise to you and the rest of corporate America, but nobody gives a crap about your secret documents. Really, nobody cares at all. Sure, it's fun to play "secret agent man', but nobody is actually clamoring for them.

    Most of your double deep dark secret methods and techniques are actually SOP at any company in your field. REALLY! The rest are obvious but only applicable to the particular situation at your company.

    If you actually had worthwhile secret documents, someone would have already sold them in exchange for a nice retirement to a tropical paradise somewhere. There was a time when employee loyalty might have prevented that, but it went out the window the day after loyalty to employees did. If your employer REALLY had secrets that were worth anything, it would pay above average, offer generous vacation time and other perks and generally treat it's employees as if they held the future of the company in their hands. But that costs money, so it's out of the question.

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