Employer Sees Browsing History: In Which Cases?

Here’s everything about your employer seeing your browsing history:

If you’re using a company computer in the workplace, your employer can see your browsing history. 

If you’re using a work computer or company network from home, they might see your browsing history.

If you’re using your own computer at home, not connected to the company in any way, they can’t see it.

If you want to learn all about how your employer can see your browsing history and how you can prevent it, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s get started!

Employer Sees Browsing History: In Which Cases? (+ Facts)

Can Your Employer See Your Browsing History? 

Before computers were everywhere, there was only one way for your boss to look over your shoulder. 

They had to be physically present, standing right there and watching you. 

Now they can use your computer to know what you’re doing even if they aren’t there!

If you’re using a company computer in the workplace, your employer can see your browsing history. 

If you’re using your own computer at home, not connected to the company, they can’t see it.

If you’re using a work computer or company network from home, they can probably see your browsing history. 

Even if they can’t, they can see other things you may prefer to keep private.

It’s a good practice to ASSUME YOUR EMPLOYER IS WATCHING any time you’re using anything that belongs to them. 

If you want to safeguard personal information, keep your home and work separate!

Use your own device and home Wi-Fi for personal browsing, and use the employer’s computer or network for work. 

Don’t mix the two.

Why Would Your Employer Care What Your Are Browsing?

Maybe they’re just flat-out nosy, but that’s not the main reason.

Part of their motivation is for their own protection.

If their business is finance or government work, they have to peek. 

Regulations require them to monitor to prevent fraud and hacking. 

Even beyond that, any company wants to make sure no one’s using their equipment to spread pornography or engage in illegal activities. 

It’s to protect their reputation and live up to their responsibility as citizens.

The other reason, though, is that some employers just don’t trust their people to work hard when they’re not being watched. 

They’re afraid you might be shopping, playing video games, or looking for another job on company time.

What Can My Employer Legally Monitor?

Your company has a legal right to track all activity you do on a company computer. 

That includes both in the workplace and on their computer that you use from your home. 

That’s not just your browsing history but also emails, texts, and any files you upload or download. 

They’re even allowed to keep track of your idle time.

A few states have rules around employee computer monitoring.

California and Illinois require third-party consent before employers can look at emails. 

In Delaware and Connecticut, companies have to tell you they’re doing so.

Tennessee and Colorado require employers to establish email monitoring policies.

However, in most states they don’t have to tell you anything; they can just do it.

If you’re in the habit of sending “private” emails from your work machine, guess what? They’re not private. 

That may not be a big deal if you’re passing along your lasagna recipe, but it’s not so good if you’re doing something you don’t want people to know about.

One thing they’re not permitted to do is demand passwords, even if they catch you signing in to a password-protected account.

What Monitoring Do Most Companies Do?

Most employers install tracking software on office devices. 

In addition, they monitor traffic across their networks, whether that’s from their own computers or an employee’s computer.

Usually, they tell employees that they’re watching, although, as I’ve said, they’re not required to in most states.

Employees who use their own computers may be required to install tracking software. 

In some cases, this has check-in, check-out capabilities so you can shut it off when you’re not working.

What Capabilities Does My Employer Have? (3 Scenarios)

They can track what’s happening either at the computer or as data in transit in their network.

They can install monitoring software on your machine or require that you install it. 

A less trustworthy employer can install tracking technology such as spyware on your machine when you’re hooked up to the company network.

Once they’re on your computer, they can track your browsing history. 

They can use your cam for video surveillance. 

They can view your screen and take screenshots at intervals. 

If that screenshot shows a blackjack site, it won’t go over well. 

They may not be able to see your password on the site, but they don’t need the password if they can see your screen.

They can use software that captures keystrokes. 

You may think of that as a hacking technique, but an employer is within their rights to use it on a computer that belongs to them.

The other way they monitor it is to act as a “man in the middle” in their network.

They can capture anything that goes in or out.

In some cases, they even work with their internet service provider (ISP) to compile information about internet traffic that comes in.

#1 Private Computer at Home

If you use your own computer on your own home Wi-Fi and never access the work environment from it, you’re safe. 

Sure, it’s possible for a highly-skilled hacker to penetrate a home network. 

However, unless your employer is in an illegal business, they’re not going to do that.

Don’t forget that they need no special capability to see what you’re doing on social media.

It’s out there for anyone to view. 

Some employers do check, especially if they hear of something that reflects badly on you. 

People have been fired over Facebook and Twitter activity, and prospective employers have chosen not to hire.

#2 Employer Computer at Work

The sky’s the limit for an employer who wants to keep a close watch in the workplace. 

Browser history, keystrokes, email, messaging, whatever you do, they can watch it. 

It’s best to assume that they always do.

There may be walls to keep people from looking into your cubicle, but there’s nothing but clear sightlines into what happens on your work computer.

#3 Working from Home

What they can do depends on who owns the machine and whose network you’re using.

Your Home, Their Computer, Their Network

As far as privacy goes, you might as well be at the office

They have full capabilities for capturing your browsing activity both on the computer and the network. 

What they can’t do is stand behind your chair.

Your Home, Your Computer, Their Network

They still have the full capability of capturing network data in “man in the middle” mode. 

This gives them your browsing history, and they can also see any files you might have passed back and forth.

If there’s nothing installed on your computer, they can’t see screenshots or capture keystrokes. 

However, if they require you to install anything as a condition of working from home, they have full access to your machine.

An ethical company shouldn’t do this, but they can secretly download spyware from their network to your private machine.

Their Computer, Your Home, Your Wi-Fi

Some employers may allow workers to take home company computers for personal use. 

Or you might decide you like their computer better than yours. 

What if you disconnect from their network and hook it up through your own Wi-Fi?

In this case, they can track your internet history only if they have the right software installed on the machine. 

Maybe they don’t care what you do on your own time, but if I were looking at, for example, a job search site, I might not want my employer to know about it.

Can My Employer Track My Phone Too?

You probably bring your phone to work. Once it’s there, it’s hard not to use it. 

You can save on data charges by using your employer’s Wi-Fi.

Maybe you’re in a building with bad network reception, and you have to use Wi-Fi.

Trouble is, if you use your employer’s network, you’re open to the same “man in the middle” workplace monitoring you have when you work on the company network from home. 

They can intercept and read electronic communication, and it doesn’t matter what kind of device the traffic is coming from. It reads it all.

Does your employer care what you do on your personal mobile device? 

Maybe not. 

But if you’re doing anything you don’t want them to know about, why give them the opportunity to see it?

On the other hand, using your personal device on your own phone network is safe. 

Maybe someone else out in the atmosphere is listening in, but your employer has no special way to do so.

What about a Company Phone?

It’s not as common as it used to be, but some companies still offer employees the free use of a company phone. 

Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it? No more monthly phone bills!

However, the dollar savings may come at a privacy cost. 

You might think this phone is like your own phone, that you’re OK as long as you’re not using their Wi-Fi.

Nonetheless, they still might be able to watch you.

It’s their phone, and if they want to, they can install employee monitoring software on it. 

If they choose to pay attention, they can track what you’re doing when you’re at home in the evening, texting with your boyfriend/girlfriend, or visiting a website you’d rather they didn’t know about.

Are There Ways to Keep My Browsing History Private? (2 Things)

The simplest and surest way to protect your employee privacy is never to use company equipment for personal affairs. 

Whether you’re using a company computer or whether you’re hooked up to your employer’s network with your own device, stick to business.

Use your own phone if you need to send a personal email from the office or visit a non-work-related website. 

Make sure it’s not connected to company Wi-Fi but that you’re going through your own network.

At home, always be the Wi-Fi owner. Disconnect from the corporate network and use your own Wi-Fi when you want to surf the web for personal reasons and send private messages.

That said, there are a couple of techniques people use to hide what they’re doing. 

In most cases, it’s not possible to use them effectively.

#1 Incognito

Most browsers allow you to browse in incognito mode, also called private browsing.

It’s an option you select from the menu in Google Chrome or whatever web browser you use.

When you’re incognito, you aren’t storing any cookies, and the sites you visit won’t show up in your search history.

Trouble is, in most cases, your employer doesn’t need your stored browsing data. 

They’re capturing that information somewhere in their network. 

Or, if it’s their computer, they may have software installed to track employee activity.

There’s one specific situation where private browsing mode might help you. 

If you’re using a company computer on your own Wi-Fi, and if there’s no tracking software installed, they can’t see what you’re browsing.

In this special case, you can also keep your internet activity private by simply clearing your browser history when you’re done with your personal browsing.

#2 Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN offers privacy and security when you’re online. 

The transmission you send out doesn’t go directly to the internet. 

Instead, it goes through a secure, encrypted tunnel to a VPN server belonging to the vendor that provided you with the software.

When the traffic finally reaches the overall online world, no one can see your IP address. 

That’s what tells where your transmission is coming from. 

Also, your browsing history is encrypted.

Your employer can see you’re using a VPN, but they can’t see what you’re doing.

There are lots of VPNs advertised.

They’re easy to install, as long as you have administrative rights to the computer. 

On a company computer, you don’t have those rights unless you’re one of a handful of special people who work in technology.

It’s easy enough to install a VPN on your own computer.

When you come through the company network, your employer won’t see your browser history.

Problem is, the employer can see you’re using a VPN, and most employers don’t allow it.

They’ll block the traffic, or they’ll insist that you stop.

More than that, you’ll attract attention to yourself.

They’ll wonder what you’re doing that makes you want a VPN.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.