MP3s in the office: Sounds of silence

Banning MP3 players from the office is the wrong way to deal with the threat of inside data theft.

As I was typing this very sentence, my MP3 was rocking out to the Northern Pikes and I don’t mind telling you that having this music available while doing my work helps me focus. Yet, it’s possible MP3 players in offices across Canada will be silenced by a trend among companies should it continue unabated.

In late July, Ipsos-Reid released a survey of companies across Canada and found that 30 per cent of them had banned MP3 players from the office. Why? It seems they view them as a security risk to corporate data. If you were to look in the dictionary for the term “knee-jerk reaction”, you would find this as a contextual example.

To be fair, I do see the concerns regarding theft. Certainly, I am not suggesting the threat does not exist. I am just getting a wee bit tired of people taking the easy way out and blaming problems on technology when the roots actually lie in human nature and environment issues — that should be the real concern here.

I’ve heard it all, from banning instant messaging to blocking music streams in the office. Good idea! But, I also notice too many people are wasting time gazing out the window. Let’s brick them up, too.

Better yet, ban cars, because people might load their trunks up with office supplies for back to school, and, while we are at it, maybe insist that everyone sew their pockets closed because they might pocket a disk of data or creamers from the lunchroom.

Certainly, there are some work environments where it’s not practical (and where it may even be dangerous) to be using an MP3 player. There are completely rational reasons for not allowing the devices. However, owning an MP3 and taking it to work makes me no more of a potential thief than owning a kitchen carving knife makes me Jack the Ripper.

Frankly, if some IT managers are this concerned with theft in the office, they should be discussing it with HR, not IT, because their problems are deeper than Bobby wanting to trip out to the Tragically Hip while he works.

I’m not a psychologist, but I do think a little sober consideration of the issues at hand demonstrate pretty clearly that bringing MP3s to the office does not increase the risk of data theft, unless you have some deeper underlying staff issues. Simple, proactive HR management would be much more effective in lowering threats than any of these types of bans.

I have no doubt some IT pros will see my point of view on this as simplistic, but it’s far less simplistic than banning devices such as MP3 players. As far as I’m concerned, that solution is a cop-out, and it’s a short-sighted solution which, over the longer term, can cost a firm more due to staff turnover, low morale and less productivity.

To paraphrase a song by the Northern Pikes: This solution ain’t pretty. It just looks that way to some companies.

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— Ducharme is editor of Reach him at