Anytime, Anywhere Availability vs Your Personal Privacy

As almost anyone that works in the corporate world would attest, we have all become mobile workers more or less.  We have inbound emails with various priority levels and we’ve cultivated a culture of quick response and anytime accessibility, regardless of the day of the week or the time of the day.  This means that access to corporate email on your smartphone has evolved from a "nice to have"  to a "must have".

At the same time many companies have implemented a bring your own device (BYOD) model for cell phones which basically means that the company no longer provides the employee with a phone.  It' moved from company issued devices to employee owned devices.  In some cases companies provide a stipend to supplement the cost of service and in other cases it's not provided at all. In fact, many companies that once provided stipends are rescinding those stipends to cut costs. This pattern is the root of the problem.

This anytime anywhere availability requirement combined with the increase in employee owned devices vs company owned/provided devices has created a problem for corporate IT departments everywhere.  How do you secure and ensure the confidentiality of company data when you don’t own or control the device that is accessing that data?  Enter enterprise mobility management software (EMM).

In June, analyst firm J. Gold Associates estimated that there are roughly 40 million mobile devices (primarily smartphones & tablets) in the U.S. with some form of enterprise mobility management software on them, and that number is expected to grow to 62 million in 2017.  Additionally, a recent survey of 508 U.S.-based companies, conducted by IDC (a leading market intelligence firm) found that more than 90% of those companies had employee-owned devices that were accessing corporate data.

What Is enterprise mobility management and How does It Work?

EMM is basically a collection of software applications that provide your employer the ability to have full access to and total control of many aspects of your personal phone. 

I'll pause for a minute to allow that to sink in….

Using an EMM, your company could pull the full hardware and software inventory, see your phone number, carrier, IMEI, serial number, OS version, app inventory, GPS location and network IPs.  They can see if you have encryption enabled, or if you have a PIN set, etc. Additionally, if the company ever chose to it could also force a trusted Certificate Authority on your device, set a required proxy, and break SSL on all your web traffic. The company could also force your device to connect to the VPN at any given time and at that point ALL content would be accessible.  Simply stated, pretty much anything and everything is potentially accessible once you enable and EMM on your phone.

So what does this mean to you and me?

Tools like Airwatch, Good, MobileIron, etc all fall in the category of EMMs.  Do you have one of these on your phone?  I use my phone and iPad for personal things AND work things.  Yes, I send and receive work emails.  I also access my work calendar from my phone. On the flip side, I also exchange flirty and sexually explicit texts with my wife and yes occasionally I've browsed a few XXX pics and videos for those lonely and horny nights while on the road traveling for WORK.  Why?  Because it's my Damn phone. I pay for it so I can use it however I want.  It's that simple.

I’m not inclined to allow my personal device(s) to be operated by, supported by or monitored by my company and IMO, neither should you.  To be clear, it’s about privacy and nothing more. The fact of the matter is that I do have certain texts, images, emails, browsing history, etc. that is personal and private and in no way would I want any of that data even having the potential to end up on a company server somewhere. 

The net net is that you have to put your trust in the company and the individuals that have access, to ALWAYS keep your personal privacy as their number 1 priority.  No matter what.  I don't know about you, but I don;t "Trust" that much.  It's not in my DNA.

So, if an EMM is your only option for work email and calendar access while on the move, unfortunately you'll need to make a tough choice. 

  1. You can accept the potential invasion of privacy and not worry about it at all. (Yikes)
  2. You can carry a second phone that you only use for work.  This eliminates the privacy concerns.  Unfortunately it will also come as another expense for you. (Ouch)
  3. You can go off the grid and only access work email and calendar when in front of your computer.  This could potentially be career suicide so if you choose this option, choose carefully. (Sheesh...)

Either way, good luck!