Before you’re issued your corporate mobile phone, have you stopped to wonder: can your employer see everything you do on your company phone?
Few of us would want to carry two phones around. It’s also certainly a lot cheaper to simply text, email and share updates on social media on your company phone.
But just as few of us are willing to hand over personal data to our bosses.
Be it your emails, calls, texts or website browsing history, here’s why you should never expect any privacy on your work phone.
Can your employer see everything you do on your company phone?
The short answer is yes, they can.
Even more interesting is what can your employer see on your work phone. Depending on your company’s IT security policies, your company can check:
- Your online browsing history
- Emails sent through your work email account
- Application usage
- Amount of time spent on your work phone
- Content on your screen
- Content stored on your work phone
Most companies will at least have some degree of monitoring software installed on corporate mobile devices. In more intensive cases, companies may also install:
- Keyloggers that track keystrokes entered during a specific period.
- Specialised automatic backup software that saves not only sent and received emails, but also email drafts you never planned to send.
- Call monitoring software that records and stores all calls made on your work phone
- Remote camera access software that captures your activity in real-time from your work phone’s camera
Can my employer read personal emails sent on my work phone?
If your email was:
- sent via your personal email account
- on an external WiFi network
your employer should not be able to read your personal emails even if they were sent using your work phone.
But, if your email was:
- sent via your personal email account
- on your company’s WiFi network
your employer may be able to view its contents.
This is true if your company copies and stores all emails on company servers. Employers can also intercept emails if they are granted a subpoena for personal emails.
Is it legal for my employer to spy on me?
For the most part, it is actually legal for employers to monitor their employee’s activities on work devices.
As early as 2007, 66% of companies surveyed by the American Management Association were already monitoring employee internet connections and browsing history.
In 2018, nearly 22% of companies surveyed by Gartner worldwide were already using employee movement data in some capacity.
It’s likely these figures are a lot higher today.
More specifically in the USA, employer monitoring of employee activity is legal under various state-level privacy laws. While there is no over-arching privacy framework like the EU’s GDPR in the US right now, The Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act afford some degree of privacy protection for employees.
Of course, not all employers abide by privacy laws. Corporate surveillance is associated with productivity boosts, and that’s a big incentive for some companies to game the system.
When is it illegal for my employer to see what I do on my company phone?
It is illegal for employers to see what you do on your company phone if monitoring software is:
- Installed on a work device without your acknowledgement or consent
Additionally, whether it’s illegal for your employer to record your calls on your company phone depends on whether you’re in a one or two-party consent state.
One-party consent means only the person doing the recording needs to give consent, as long as they are taking part in the recording themselves.
Two-party consent means both the person recording and the person being record must give consent.
At the time of writing, states that require two-party consent include:
- New Hampshire
How can I stop my employer from tracking my work phone?
To be honest, there isn’t much you can do to prevent your employer from monitoring what you do on your work phone.
It may be possible to regain your call privacy with burner phone numbers using an external burner phone number app like our very own Phoner. If your company policy permits application audits however, this may not be feasible.
What you can do instead is know if your phone is being monitored, and how much of what you do on your work phone is monitored.
How to check if your work phone is being monitored
For iPhone work phone users
If your iPhone is currently running iOS 10 or later, you will see a supervision messages either:
- At the top of your main settings menu
- Right at the lock screen
For iPhones running iOS 9 or earlier, you will need to:
- Go to Settings
- Select General
- Tap About
Some websites have indicated that the message should also appear on the bottom of your lock screen for iPhones running iOS 9 or earlier.
For Android work phone users
Unlike iOS, Android doesn’t display a clear notification.
To find out more, contact your company’s G Suite administrator. It’s also helpful to read up on the Google Apps Device Policy app.
Expect no privacy on your work phone
At the end of the day, work phones are company property. It’s in any company’s interest to make sure they are used carefully and productively.
So can your employer see everything you do on your company phone? Pretty much yes. But just because you employer has the means to spy on you doesn’t mean they will, so don’t overly concern yourself with this.