Understanding Work-From-Home Surveillance: 6 Tips to Safeguard Your Privacy

When it comes to cyber privacy, most people focus on obvious threats: cybercriminals, government surveillance, and marketers. If you work from home, you may need to add someone else to that list — your employer. It’s time to address the ethical question of remote work monitoring. 

The COVID-19 lockdowns forced companies to use home-working arrangements. A 2021 study by Upwork estimates that 22% of the American workforce will be permanently remote by 2025. While employers worry this may affect productivity, survey data indicates a 47% productivity increase with remote working.

Working from home comes with an array of privacy concerns. As it’s still a new trend, many employers still don’t know how to balance employee privacy with security and productivity concerns. You should feel comfortable at home without worrying about your employer stalking your every move.

You might also need space from family or household members while working. This is especially true if you deal with confidential client data or medical information. It could come across as a little unprofessional if you have a toddler pottering around in the background of a work meeting.

Are you concerned about your internet privacy? If so, consider using CyberGhost VPN. We use 256-bit AES encryption and advanced security features to keep your data secure, even on public Wi-Fi.

The Impact of Remote Working on Personal Privacy

For many employees, working from home was a dream come true. Before the pandemic, office workers were often envious of their digital nomad friends. COVID-19 granted many people their wish of working remotely. But it was a tainted fairy tale — you could work from anywhere, you just couldn’t leave your house. That’s not to mention the plethora of privacy concerns people faced with their new work setup. 

Many people don’t feel comfortable exposing their homes to employers or clients via Zoom calls or camera monitoring. Everyone has a different way of living and your private life shouldn’t be subject to outside judgment. This is especially true for those with young children running around the house.

Not everyone has the luxury of a home office or private space to work. This can be problematic for people who need privacy for client phone calls. For example, if you’re a psychotherapist, your patients won’t be happy about your spouse listening to their deeply-rooted trauma.

When working from home, you might also need to use your personal device for work. You may worry what your boss has access to, or mixing up work files or social media posts with home stuff. 

Aside from privacy concerns, work-from-home surveillance can affect your mental and physical health in several ways.

How Does Remote Working Affect Your Health?

Remote work can have negative side effects resulting from long hours in front of a computer and the struggle to separate work and home life. These include: 

          • Musculoskeletal problems
          • Insufficient exercise
          • Disturbed sleep
          • Being unable to switch off from work
          • Social isolation
          • Increased “digital anxiety”

Remote workers also experience mental health issues from being under constant surveillance. 

Image showing statistics of the psychological impact of work-from-home surveillance
Surveillance has deeper psychological implications — never forget that!

If you’re worried about privacy, it might be worth discussing these concerns with your employer. It also helps to know your rights. 

Work From Home Privacy Rights 

At present, it’s legal for businesses to monitor remote employees in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. In the US, employers have few limitations on how they do this. They’re free to monitor online activity, email, keystrokes, and time you spend at your computer.

In the EU, employers have to work harder to justify employee monitoring. This is mostly due to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — legislation about collection of personal data. Many companies have been fined for using video surveillance or other intrusive monitoring that violates privacy rights.

Companies also face restrictions on how they use collected data. Most countries don’t allow employers to pass data to third parties and employers must handle data with discretion.

In Canada and certain US states, employers must inform employees about the types of data they collect. However, this information may have been part of the contract you signed when you started your job, giving you little legal right to complain.

We need to upgrade the law to protect the privacy of workers and set reasonable limits on the use of this snooping technology, and the public overwhelmingly agrees with us.

Chi Onwurah (UK politician)

The Impact of Remote Working on Companies

Employers have mixed responses to work-from-home setups. Some realize how remote working can contribute to increased productivity and cost saving. Others still cling to the traditional hands-on approach. 

Companies also struggle with remote work security issues. For data-driven organizations, monitoring company devices is crucial to risk management. Most data breaches result from negligence or disloyalty, and important information leaking is a massive concern for companies. 

Worker expectations have changed as a result of the pandemic. Employees are demanding more flexibility and many want the option of hybrid or fully remote working. This can be a challenge for managers with team members scattered across the country or world.

Digital solutions help enforce security when employees work remotely. Let’s take a look at the different types of employee monitoring. 

Types of Remote Work Monitoring

Some employers gauge productivity by whether employees meet their goals. In these cases, work-from-home surveillance is redundant. Other employers are less trusting and take more intrusive measures to track remote working. 

Here are some of the most popular types of remote work monitoring tools, from least intrusive to most intrusive:

          • Time-tracking: Many employers use time-tracking software like Clockify to get employees to track how much time they spend on different tasks. Of course, dishonest employees can simply leave the timer on while they go take a shower and their employer is none the wiser! 
          • Screenshots: Platforms like Upwork.com use tracking software to take periodic screenshots of workers’ screens. The software may take screenshots randomly or every 5-10 minutes.
          • Screen recording: This technology records everything a worker does while they’re on the clock. It prevents them from spending time on social media or watching videos when they should be working.
          • In-home camera monitoring: In severe cases, employers may ask workers to install a camera in their homes so they can watch them remotely as they work. Seriously? Not cool. 
          • Bossware: This software allows employers to monitor and track employee productivity in real time while they work. It can also serve as a task manager, which is another reason it’s popular with employers.
Image of Upwork's time tracker
Upwork’s tracker: Use a simple toggle to start and stop sessions

It’s worth noting that employees often don’t face this level of scrutiny at the office. It’s rare that your boss would stand over your shoulder watching your screen or recording your every move. 

Additional Risks & Challenges For Freelancers

Freelancers who deal with many clients may face other challenges. It’s not always possible to know a client’s background. This can be a security concern, especially if completing a project involves opening links, downloading files, or sharing personal information. 

I once had a client who refused to video chat and only wanted to communicate via Discord. During our chats, he prompted me to download a ton of files and open links, often to websites he owned. 

Around the same time, I started getting emails from someone under a different name asking about custom content. The emails were short and unprofessional. I remembered them because I thought they were odd.

When my client paid me, I could see the payment details and noticed the same name as the other person who’d emailed me. All in all, he emailed me using three different names but never admitted it was him. He also kept steering the conversation in a more personal direction.

Suddenly, I was getting notifications of unfamiliar device log-ins from locations I’d never been to, including the place my client said he was based. My PayPal, Upwork, email, and social media account passwords had all been reset — all of which are common signs of an attack.

I took the following steps to rectify the problem: 

          • Scanned my laptop for viruses and Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs)
          • Factory reset all devices
          • Contacted customer service teams to report the issue and verify my identity
          • Changed my passwords while using a trustworthy VPN
          • Blocked all of his emails

Due to security irregularities, PayPal, Upwork, and my social accounts locked me out for quite some time. I had to thoroughly verify my identity before they’d let me back in. Luckily, nothing else came of it and I count myself lucky — it could have been much worse.

Are you concerned about internet privacy? I recommend using a high-quality VPN when browsing the web. While a VPN can’t help if you willingly download malicious files, it can protect you against tracking and public network attacks. A VPN encrypts your connection, making it more difficult to track your online activity.

CyberGhost VPN is a high-speed VPN with military-grade encryption, a strict No Logs policy, and 24/7 Customer Support. Don’t take shortcuts with your cybersecurity,get CyberGhost VPN and stay safe online. 

6 Ways to Reclaim Your Privacy When Working From Home

Despite widespread recognition of the privacy challenges remote workers face, laws are slow to change. Businesses have legitimate interests in knowing where resources are going, yet, privacy at home should be a given. Here are 6 steps you can take to reclaim your privacy when working remotely. 

List of 6 ways to claim back privacy when working from home
Do what you can to secure your privacy when working remotely
  1. Negotiate Privacy Terms With Your Employer

While some employers can’t let go of control, others may be open to negotiation. It’s worth suggesting alternative ways of measuring productivity. Perhaps, they could gauge your productivity by whether you finish tasks within a given timeframe instead of constantly monitoring your screen. Keep in mind, they’re not legally obliged to change their policy.

  1. Use Different Devices

If you worry about your boss accessing your personal life files, use a separate device for work. This also ensures better security for private client information. Many employers provide work devices for remote employees. If yours hasn’t, consider asking them about it. 

  1. Use Separate Accounts 

If you can’t justify buying a second device, use separate user accounts. All operating systems support this. You can usually create a new account on the login page after starting your computer. This way, you can worry less about employers peering into your private life. 

If you use social media for work, keep corporate and personal accounts separate. Personal and professional life don’t always mix well. Imagine posting a funny meme thinking you’re logged into your personal account only to realize you posted it on the company account.

It’s embarrassing and you could get in trouble, especially if your company suffered reputational damage. Always double-check which account you’re posting from!

  1. Disable Your Mic and Webcam

Home privacy can be an issue during online meetings — nobody wants to be recorded without permission. Luckily, Zoom has a built-in feature that tells you if someone is recording the meeting

If you have to sit through long meetings, you may want to turn off your camera from time to time, especially if you need to take a minute to answer the door or speak to your partner. Just be sure to check that your mic is definitely off before starting a conversation on what you’re having for dinner — or, worse, going to the bathroom.

Some devices have designated keyboard buttons for manually switching off the mic and camera. I use an HP Envy, and a small red light lets me know when I’ve switched my mic or camera off. 

  1. Limit Camera Angles

If your employer uses in-home camera monitoring to keep track of you, limit the camera angle to control what they can see. Position yourself in front of a wall or corner with the camera facing you. If you’ve got children running around, this can help keep them out of view. 

  1. Use a VPN

Your local café might be a relaxing work environment, but its Wi-Fi network is most likely unsecured. If a cybercriminal decides to target you, they could get your hands on your personal data and any company or client information you’re working on. If you’re responsible for a breach of company security, you can kiss your pay rise, and maybe even your job, goodbye.

Mitigate the risks by using a high-quality VPN to protect your digital integrity. VPNs encrypt your internet connection and protect you from a wide range of cyberattacks, including:

    • ️✅ DDoS Attacks
    • ️✅ Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
    • ️✅ Evil Twin Attacks
    • ️✅ Mac Spoofing Attacks
    • ️✅ ARP Spoofing Attacks

CyberGhost VPN uses military-grade 264-bit AES VPN encryption to secure your connection. If a cybercriminal tries to intercept your data, all they’ll see is a jumbled mess. This can protect you from a range of attacks when working on your personal or work computer. It’s a perfect solution for workers who love getting lost in work at public cafes or libraries.

Install CyberGhost VPN to enjoy secure browsing on public networks. 

Striking Balance With Work From Home Privacy

Remote working has been around for a while, but it skyrocketed during the pandemic. However, it’s still new territory for many employers and workers, and many companies are still trying to strike the right balance between company interests and employee privacy. 

If you’re a remote worker, you can take steps to reclaim your privacy. Try to keep work devices and accounts separate from personal ones and speak to your employer about alternative ways of monitoring your productivity. 

Remote working doesn’t mean you have to stay chained to your desk. Working in public spaces on shared Wi-Fi networks can be risky — unless you use a VPN. Get CyberGhost VPN to protect your personal and client data when working at your local café or on the move.


What is Bossware?

Bossware is software designed to help employers manage remote employees. It displays real-time data about employee productivity, performance, and attendance. Managers can use its reports and analytics to identify trends and issues. Bossware can also provide tools for managing tasks, projects, and deadlines.

You may not have much control over how your employer monitors your productivity, but you can take control of other elements of your privacy. CyberGhost VPN lets you hide your IP address, so your employer won’t know if you’re working from home, the local café, or the beach! 

Can employers spy on employees at home?

In most countries, it’s legal for employers to monitor the activity of remote employees. They may do this in a variety of ways, including taking periodic screenshots, camera monitoring, or time-tracking.

Companies and workers are still debating work-from-home privacy and security issues. Hopefully, these discussions will lead to laws offering greater protection for employees’ privacy — only time will tell.

What can my employer see when I work from home?

This depends on what remote monitoring method they choose to implement.  They may use a time tracker, take periodic screenshots, use a screen recorder, or ask you to install a camera to monitor your activity. Scary!

The top three monitored activities are: 1) time spent working, 2) inbound and outbound emails, and 3) website visits. To be on the safe side, it’s best to assume your employer can monitor everything you do on a company device or when logged onto the company network.

If you’re using a personal device for work, a VPN lets you change your digital location, so your employer won’t know where you’re working from. It also encrypts your connection to keep your data secure when working on public Wi-Fi.

Can my employer see my browsing history when working from home?

If you’re using a work computer when working from home, assume your employer can see everything you do online. Avoid using personal email or social media accounts and definitely don’t go browsing for your next job during work hours!

If you connect to a company network from your personal device, your employer may be able to see your browsing history when you’re in the work software. However, they shouldn’t be able to track your online activity outside of the remote desktop.

To be safe, you can set up separate user accounts on your device for personal and work use.
When working from home, your ISP could also be tracking your browsing history. Install CyberGhost VPN to scramble your data. Your ISP won’t be able to see what you’re up to.

Leave a comment

Carlos A . Espinoza

Posted on 24/12/2020 at 22:27

Thank you for this article knowledge is power !!!


You’re welcome!
Very happy to hear that!

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*