If you want to get a good idea about where a culture’s moral compass is pointing, what better place to start than with the device that—in one form or another—dominates the activities of our daily lives: the computer. Surely our highest priorities and most treasured desires are reflected in what we do with our computing devices. So what does it say about us when almost 75% of corporate security and IT professionals in the U.S. have found "inappropriate" pictures, videos or browser cache links on employee laptops, according to a recent survey cited in Computerworld? Two-thirds of the 3,100 IT pros anonymously surveyed by the Ponemon Institute had found "evidence of inappropriate interactions with other employees" of an adult nature on company-issued laptops, the story noted. According to Computerworld, Larry Ponemon, chairman of the group behind the study, said the findings pointed to risky behavior by employees that heightened the potential for data security breaches. Upon hearing this, most of us would probably wonder what the heck is going on with such bad security around corporate laptops. A more important point, however, is to wonder what the heck is going on with the people who take these chances—engaging in risky behavior that could not only compromise them professionally, but personally. The obvious answer seems to be that our moral compass has taken to spinning out of control, because we’re not just talking about a tiny minority who take these risks. But if this “inappropriate” behavior is so widespread, why aren’t we hearing about mass firings and other disciplinary actions at these companies? Surely the people who run our corporations are shocked and dismayed at such behavior. Or are they? It seems to me that today’s companies are willing to put up with a lot more of what we used to call “inappropriate behavior” than they would have in years past. But why? We could point to the general moral decline that has taken place over the past few decades, and we would probably be right in saying that prose and images “of an adult nature” are much more tolerated than they once were. We might also surmise that the individuals who are charged with overseeing the behavior of employees could well be engaging in risky behaviors themselves. There’s probably some truth there as well. But I believe the key driver of all this risky behavior is the naïve assumption by perpetrators that most people are basically good, and can be trusted. You can see that foolish trust in the fact that younger computer users in particular are willing to part with a great deal of their personal privacy for the privilege of being part of a “community”—such as Facebook or MySpace. After all, if I’m willing to share the grisly details of my life with millions of strangers online, why would doing so via my corporate laptop be a problem? But it is a problem. If users are willing to sacrifice their privacy and integrity for a few minutes of attention on a Facebook wall, something is sorely lacking in their lives—their real lives, where they see and interact with real people. And don’t get me wrong. Social networking sites are not the culprits. They are often fun and useful. For others, however, they are among the tools used to combat loneliness, depression, anger or emptiness. Unfortunately, the numbers of such individuals seems to be growing. Yes, all this risky behavior is dangerous to our companies, but our companies are made up of people, and people these days seem to accept that what was once “inappropriate” is now quite normal, or even necessary. How sad for us all. This article can also be found at InsuranceNetworking.com.

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