The number of corporate-owned mobile devices is increasing as businesses are using the power of mobile to keep their employees productive on the go and enhance business outcomes. However, it is not unheard of for employees to use their work phone as their personal phone. With the line between business and personal use irrefutably blurred, when is blocking mobile content on your employees’ mobile devices appropriate?

Blocking mobile content is a natural next step

With traditional infrastructure, a large majority of companies enable some form of web content filtering within the corporate network. Why do they use it? Firstly, to increase productivity by blocking social media sites and others that can put a drain on employees’ time. Second and more importantly, because the company can be held liable for the actions of their employees. With corporate owned mobile devices being used for personal use, this is an important issue to consider.

The serious consequences of uncontrolled internet usage

Companies can be prosecuted for both corporate and vicarious liability. Corporate liability applies to actions that are within the scope of employment, and often pertain to acts which cause harm to another person. Vicarious liability holds employers accountable for the wrongful negligent or intentional tort actions of their employees. This means courts can and will find employers responsible for their employees’ actions including the misuse of email, the internet and corporate mobile devices leading to large fines and reputation damage.
Examples of incidents that have led to companies facing litigation because of an employee’s actions include:

  • Viewing inappropriate content at work
  • Viewing illegal content on work laptops
  • Saving inappropriate images on work laptops
  • Downloading copyrighted material (both for work purposes as well as personal)
  • Sexual harassment where co-workers have used their laptops to view sexually explicit material

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Blocking mobile content is just as important as desktop

So where do corporate-owned mobile devices fit into this? The examples above are all real cases and therefore apply to any corporate owned device whether laptops, desktops or mobile devices.
Many companies forget that corporate owned mobile devices fall under this category. This is a huge oversight considering the potentially expensive legal ramifications.
If an employee is viewing illegal material on a corporate-owned mobile device, the company is still liable, regardless of whether the person is in the office or not and what network they are connected to. The same applies to saving images or downloading copyrighted material.
Blocking mobile content
Worst still, on mobile devices, employees can get around a company’s existing IT infrastructure. Traditional infrastructure such as desktops and laptops can only access the network through Wi-Fi or the LAN. They are also more likely to be used within the company network physically located in the company’s building. The mobile device can easily leave the protective perimeter of the enterprise. It can access so many disparate networks with ease, whether inside or outside of the office, allowing employees to access content previously blocked on the corporate network inside the office and within office hours. Read this blog post on mobile shadow IT to learn more.


So with all things considered, it does make sense to filter and block mobile content, for all the same reasons companies have been blocking content on the corporate network. One of the main factors stopping employers is the personal nature of smartphones. Suddenly blocking content becomes very personal. Employees probably feel the same way, like implementing content filtering on their device is an invasion of privacy or too restrictive. If done well however, there should be little impact to the majority of users.
The bottom line is, if the device is owned by the company, the company is liable for how it is used. A fact which employees often forget and one which would need to be communicated more clearly to them. Sophisticated blocking or filtering services are able to block specific apps and websites, enabling mobility managers to open up wider access to categories rather than doing a general category block. It keeps your employees safe, as well as the business. If the blocks are moderate and the changes are communicated, blocking mobile content can benefit both parties.
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