Who’s Reading Your Email

Privacy and confidentiality is a big issue for real estate agents and their clients. When we enter into contracts with clients, whether it be buyer agency agreements or listing agreements, we are contractually obligated to maintain the confidentiality of their information.

Which leads me to the topic of email. An agent recently emailed me some information regarding his client’s offer. He used the email address of his full-time government job.  I got to thinking about who else might be reading that email. And if I replied to his email, who might be reading my email?

So I did a little research.

The following is clipped from The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a non-profit organization:

A 2005 survey by the American Management Association found that three-fourths of employers monitor their employees’ web site visits in order to prevent inappropriate surfing. And 65% use software to block connections to web sites deemed off limits for employees. About a third track keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard. Just over half of employers review and retain electronic mail messages. (I added the bold type.)

and this from the same article:

Is electronic mail private? What about voice mail?

In most cases, no. If an electronic mail (e-mail) system is used at a company, the employer owns it and is allowed to review its contents. (Again, I added the bold type.) Messages sent within the company as well as those that are sent from your terminal to another company or from another company to you can be subject to monitoring by your employer. This includes web-based email accounts such as Yahoo and Hotmail as well as instant messages. The same holds true for voice mail systems. In general, employees should not assume that these activities are not being monitored and are private. Several workplace privacy court cases have been decided in the employer’s favor.

When I send and receive email, it’s to an email address that only I have control over. I pay for it and no one else has access to it. So when I send and receive email containing private and confidential information, I know it’s private and confidential as long as it’s on my system. What happens to it when it leaves me is anybody’s guess.

I think that if I were working with anyone who deals with my personal information, I would be very leery of sending to someone’s non-real estate work email address or fax machine. It may seem innocuous, but think of emailing a financial statement to your agent when you’re making an offer on a house. Who else is reading that information? Hmmm…this guy makes pretty good money and has a couple of nice cars…wonder where he lives?

There are a lot of conclusions that I can come up with from this information –ask if your agent uses email dedicated only to his or her real estate business. Ask if your agent will use computers at his or her non-real-estate job to send those emails.

Insist that your agent be as committed to preserving your privacy as you are.

© 2007 Susan Pruden

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