SAN FRANCISCO – Big Brother is not only watching but he is also reading your e-mail.
According to a new study, about a third of big companies in the United States and Britain hire employees to read and analyze outbound e-mail as they seek to guard against legal, financial or regulatory risk.
More than a third of U.S. companies surveyed also said their business was hurt by the exposure of sensitive or embarrassing information in the past 12 months, according to the annual study from a company specializing in protecting corporate e-mail at large businesses.
"What folks are concerned about is confidential or sensitive information that is going out," said Gary Steele, chief executive of Cupertino, California-based Proofpoint Inc., which conducted the study along with Forrester Research.
The top concern was protecting the financial privacy and identity of customers followed by compliance issues and a bid to prevent confidential leaks. Businesses ranked monitoring for inappropriate content and attachments as less important.
Steele also said on Friday that more and more companies are employing staff to read outgoing e-mails of workers who typically have no idea their correspondence is being monitored.
"It is not something that is broadcast," Steele said. "There are organizations where employees think they can say whatever they want to say and nobody is going to read it."
The survey gathered responses concerning e-mail security from 406 companies in the United States and the United Kingdom with more than 1,000 employees.
In both regions, 38 percent of respondents said they employed staff to read or otherwise analyze outbound e-mail. In the United States, 44 percent of companies with more than 20,000 employees said they hire workers to snoop on workers' e-mail.
Nearly one in three U.S. companies also said they had fired an employee for violating e-mail policies in the past 12 months and estimated that about 20 percent of outgoing e-mails contain content that poses a legal, financial or regulatory risk.