Who Controls Mobile Internet Access in Business?

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Face it, mobile Internet devices are growing like politicians in Iowa during primaries. IT department managers used to worry about locking down BlackBerry devices for mobile work forces. Now they have to contend with employees demanding to use smartphones and tablets in the workplace, making business owners concerned about mobile Internet access.

And it’s not like yesterday when managers could spot employees watching videos on company time on laptops and desktop computers. Today’s devices are smaller and becoming more powerful. Employees easily text and tweet with a phone in their pockets or watch the latest porn sites in the cafeteria borrowing company-paid Wi-Fi networks.

Mobile Internet Access Control

Enter¬†ContentWatch, a company claiming to help large and small companies filter employee mobile content. In today’s Laptop magazine, Brian Bennett writes about this computer-turned mobile company with expertise in removing websites that management believes employees shouldn’t watch on company time.

At CTIA (where else?), the company announced its mobile Internet access control app called ContentProtect Mobile app software that runs on iOS and Android phones (BlackBerry, Windows 7 and Symbian later). The company launches the new product in the first half of 2011 to the delight of IT managers. GPS-equipped, IT personnel will know the location and software content of every company handset and other mobile devices.

Internet Censorship?

Lately, we’ve read about foreign governments in China and India putting pressure on RIM to release private email information to government employees. Meanwhile, citizen journalists in Iran, Egypt and Libya, use Twitter and Facebook to tell the world what’s really going on in their countries.

Most people of all political persuasions like the idea as long as the spilled beans come from countries we don’t like (Iran, North Korea, Libya, etc.) It’s a bit hairier with countries we do like (say, India).

So we berate countries that restrict mobile Internet access, but in the United States, Europe and elsewhere (the good guys), many companies want to use technology controlling what their employees view on the Web. Am I sensing a contradiction here?

Should Employees Have Free Access to the Internet at Work?

The other day at a medical appointment, I wanted to show my doctor MobileDiscoveries Radio on my iPad. Well, the Wi-Fi was a bit slow to stream the audio. So I asked her if she could bring up my site on her computer.

Surprise! Not only was her computer lacking speakers, as soon as my site loaded, I couldn’t see the flash audio player on her screen. So her IT department had disabled sound and flash from her browser and computer. And she’s a doctor.

But what about employees at other companies? We all know the Web has become essential on both our mobile as well as desktop computing tools. Should companies restrict mobile Internet access? Filter out undesirable blogs and websites?

Clearly, letting business employees use computing and communications devices for personal pleasure depends on many factors. For example, I don’t like the idea of a nuclear power plant control room worker playing Mafia Wars as the coolant in the reactor starts dropping.

Yet, every business and manager needs to recognize the incessant need for employees–especially younger ones–who are used to texting, emailing, web surfing and the like in their lives. And the issue of mobile Internet access doesn’t disappear when employees walk in the front door.