When your home printer is jammed, you might start side-eyeing your work printer. If you need to print something urgently, it’s pretty tempting just to do it at work. But before you hit the print button, you might wonder, “Will anyone find out?”
It’s an excellent question since the modern workplace is highly digitized. Thanks to this, employers have more ways to track you than ever before. That means the employee monitoring software market is booming right now.
Not all companies use intense bossware to monitor your every move, but they likely have a few practices to ensure everything is above board. For instance, many companies have print servers for all office documents. They might pull up the printer queue to see what’s happening if you raise suspicion.
Here’s how it works
If you don’t know much about the inner world of printers, here’s a quick breakdown. You probably know that most computers store data on built-in hard disk drives.
However, you may not know that many printers, copiers and multifunction printers also record and store data. So when you’re using an office printer, it’s likely that it will go through a print server that lets your boss know what you’re really getting out of the machine.
It’s been this way for a while. According to the Hackworth blog, printers have stored documents in semi-permanent memory ever since the early 2000s. That means your company could be able to go through the printer queue to see what you’ve printed.
Of course, it depends on your IT department
Depending on your employer’s preferences, some IT departments will install additional software to work printers. For example, they might install programs to monitor workers and keep tabs on who is printing resumes to look for a new job.
Don’t forget that a native monitoring function might be built into your printer. Many laser printers use machine identification codes, or tiny yellow dots, that identify the time you print a document. According to the BBC, machine identification codes have helped the FBI in critical investigations.
Wondering which printers come with these yellow tracking dots? Here’s a list of printers that display tracking dots and printers that don’t use MICs. If you ever print outside of work hours, you might want to keep this in mind.
What you need to know
Currently, no federal laws require your employer to tell you what they monitor. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t expect 100% privacy while using company equipment. But of course, employee monitoring laws vary state by state, so you might want to go down a research rabbit hole on your state’s laws.
Remember how we said earlier that it all depends on your employer? Chances are your IT department has better ways to spend time than rifling through all the documents people print throughout the day.
If you want to print a resume or other documentation, it’s unlikely that anyone will go out of their way to look over the printer queue. Well, unless you act suspiciously, of course. Then the system administrator in charge of the printer might monitor what’s being printed.
We recommend erring on the side of caution. You never know what systems your company has set up, and modern bossware is practically ubiquitous. You could always ask HR or the IT department about the monitoring they set up on their printer, but then they might wonder why you’re asking.
Speaking of printers here’s Kim’s top choice
Having a personal printer is so convenient. You can print coupons, the kids’ homework and important work documents, all from your home’s comfort.
The downside? Expensive ink cartridges — unless you purchase an EcoTank printer from our sponsor, Epson. They come with a ridiculous amount of ink right in the box — enough to print a whopping 6,000 color pages.
Check out Epson EcoTank printers at a Best Buy, OfficeMax or Office Depot near you, or shop online at Epson.com/EcoTankKim.