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Tech firms target workplace downloads

Macrovision and Websense are teaming up to root out illegal MP3s, movies, games and other copyrighted material on employees' work computers.

Technology companies Macrovision and Websense are teaming up to root out illegal MP3s, movies, games and other copyrighted material on employees' work computers.

The partnership is part of a new push by Web filtering company Websense to give employers tight control over exactly what happens on their employees' computers. Its scope ranges from disabling peer-to-peer applications like Kazaa to identifying pornography, music or movies on individual hard drives.

"We're making the basic assumption that a high percentage of downloading is done at work, because that's where the bandwidth is," said Brian Dunn, Macrovision's senior vice president of business development.

The deal, and particularly Websense's upcoming hard-drive monitoring software, marks another potentially significant curtailment of employees' online freedoms in the workplace. Software has given employers substantial ability to monitor e-mail and control Web surfing. The new software would expand a company's ability to control what happens on an employee's hard drive.

That could be welcome news to many employers, who are looking for ways to avoid liability for employees' copyright infringement using company property. Already one Arizona company has settled out of court with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for $1 million, after it was accused of allowing its employees to trade songs on an internal network.

A spokeswoman for the RIAA said that the organization is aware of other companies with unauthorized music files on their systems but that she could not comment specifically on pending investigations.

A recent Personnel Today survey commissioned by Websense found that about 11 percent of Internet-related human resources complaints were related to music downloads. That compares with more than 50 percent of complaints related to pornography.

Employee e-mail and Web monitoring has grown substantially over the past several years. A report by the nonprofit Privacy Foundation last year found that up to 14 million people, or about a third of online employees, had Web surfing and e-mail monitored by their employers.

Websense's services alone cover more than 12 million employee seats, including many of the most familiar companies such as Coca-Cola, Boeing and Eddie Bauer.

Watching your Web habits
Existing versions of the company's software focus largely on Web filtering, allowing companies to set which employees can go to which types of sites or specific Web addresses, and when.

Websense's new software, expected to be released early next year, will bring that filtering function to desktop computers. A small application would be installed on every employee's computer, periodically indexing the entire contents of the hard drive and sending a report to the central server.

Any unauthorized applications--ranging from file-swapping services to instant messaging--could be disabled. Unauthorized files such as MP3 or movie files could also be targeted, at the discretion of the employer.

"A lot of these (problems) are migrating down to the desktop," said Websense spokesman Ted Ladd. "It's not just Web sites that are the issue."

Some of these desktop control features are similar to those found in software from other companies such as Altiris--and even features that have long been inside corporate versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system.

The Macrovision component will be added later in 2003, the companies said. Macrovision creates copy-protection technology for games, movies and music CDs. The partnership with Websense will initially create a new kind of digital marker inside entertainment media, flagging it for review by the Websense software.

That means that even if a company hasn't turned on all game- or MP3-blocking functions on employees' computers, Macrovision-protected content would still be flagged and found by Websense's software. The Macrovision component would have no effect on unprotected content such as MP3s downloaded from the Net, however.