Cameo 2.0: Get ready for your close-up
Is your boss reading your e-mail?
By Sam Costello
(IDG) -- Shoulder check. Just this week, new eyes may be upon you.
Since Tuesday, managers everywhere have been able to buy the power to look through employee e-mail boxes by remote. Your boss can search for common words and even delete your e-mail without notification. That's because a software company called MicroData has made its move.
MicroData's Cameo, version 2.0 -- being released this week -- is a rules-based system that allows managers or administrators using Microsoft Exchange 5.5 or Exchange 2000 e-mail servers to block, delete, search and automatically route e-mail, according to officials at the company in Topsfield, Massachusetts.
And this is new.
Unlike other products that offer these features for incoming mail from the Internet, Cameo allows these options to be exercised on e-mail sent within the corporate network, says Paul Parisi, president and CEO of MicroData. Version 1.0 of Cameo did not include internal e-mail scanning capabilities, nor did it allow for inbox scanning, he said.
Administrators are able to enter as many as 200 keywords or phrases for e-mail searches, including information about the body, To:, CC:, subject, and attachment fields, the company says.
When a message is found by filters, the e-mail may be automatically deleted or sent to its destination, with a copy sent to a designated address or distribution list, Parisi says.
Here are some of the capabilities of Cameo 2.0, as advertised on MicroData's Web site. As you can tell from the quotation marks we're using, the exclamation points and other elements of salesmanship are in MicroData's sales text.
"Scan Internet e-mail. Matched messages are allowed to pass, but are copied to any address for review."
"Scan internal desk-to-desk e-mail! Over 70 percent of a typical company’s e-mail is internal. Only Cameo 2.0 (and Cameo SMTP) check it."
"Take direct control over e-mail already delivered! Search through any or all inboxes looking for messages that match content you specify. Matched messages can be deleted (without user knowledge) or copied for review!"
"Enormous search capability. Over 200 words or phrases can be defined and searched for simultaneously!"
"Flexible reporting options. Every message match can be forwarded to a unique individual for review and action."
"Easy set up and operation."
"And much more!"
Pride and privacy
Being able to search inboxes company-wide could allow companies to find needed information or contain the spread of e-mail-borne viruses, Parisi says.
But while the software may offer some benefits, it's also bound to raise privacy concerns for employees and privacy rights advocates. Parisi takes largely a hands-off approach to these issues.
"We're not policy makers," he says. The privacy policies that should be used with the product are "whatever policies the company using the product wants to enforce." Rather than setting policy, Cameo aims to provide information and control over resources, Parisi says.
"We have some very good tools that can tell you what's going on [in your network]," he says. Corporate resources need to be monitored and protected, because sending e-mail from company networks is "tantamount to you putting a message on company letterhead."
Privacy concerns can be mitigated, Parisi says, by openness on the part of employers -- by acknowledging to their employees that e-mail may be monitored.
"When [employees are] using a corporate e-mail system and the [privacy] policy has been stated up front, I don't think it's an invasion of privacy," he says.
But "any tool can be used or misused," Parisi concedes. "A corporate e-mail policy has to be fluid," balancing the needs and rights of employees and the company, he says. Just as an excessive phone bill from an office phone would be a cause for alarm, so too might be excessive e-mail use.
Although also admitting that the ability to read employee's inboxes and delete messages from them is "potentially inflammatory," Parisi counters that "if you're not doing anything inappropriate, you have nothing to worry about."
Not everyone is so sure of that, however.
Although software is neutral and can be used in many ways, software does have "usage tendencies," says Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the cyber-rights Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
"We (the EFF) don't like to blame tools," Tien said. "We try to focus on how the tools are used." But as such software tools become more widely deployed, it does become easier to criticize them, he said.
Although the sort of workplace surveillance tools like Cameo allow is mostly legal, "the capability to do this kind of monitoring raises real privacy issues," Tien says. Whether this is troubling or not is based on the context of how the tools are used, he says.
"Just because a company has the potential to do something, doesn't mean they do," he says.
Still, tools like Cameo may well drive an increase in the already-common practice of monitoring employee e-mail, Tien says.
"Employers have always wanted to know what their employees are doing," but cost was a barrier to that end, he says. Digital communications eliminates that barrier and makes monitoring much easier.
"There is no justification for instituting a monitoring policy without giving plenty of advance notice and perhaps obtaining written consent," Tien says. An increase in monitoring -- combined with widespread employee knowledge of such activity -- "is going to create workplaces where paranoia and suspicion are rampant," he says.
"[Giving] notice is not the be-all and end-all of protecting people's workplace privacy," he says.
Cameo 2.0 shipped worldwide on Tuesday. A 10-user license costs $179 ($223.75 with support) and the price increases on a similar scale, with a 1,000-user license running $2,699 ($3,373.75 with support).
Two new workplace surveys are being made by techies.com, which is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. CNN.com/Career readers are invited to participate. We'll be reporting on the surveys' results when they're available. The first of the two asks employers their advice on using online job boards to find candidates. Click here if you're interested in participating in that one. The second survey asks IT professionals to rate security -- both physical and virtual -- in their workplaces. Parts of that one include questions about crime in the workplace. Click here to participate in that survey.
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