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UK firms could be falling foul of corporate accountability regulations by failing to track and archive instant messaging (IM) conversations among workers.

Only 22 per cent of medium-to-large UK organisations monitor IM and just nine per cent say they archive IM data, according to a survey of European IT directors commissioned by storage vendor Hitachi Data Systems.

IM was originally intended as a consumer tool but it has also caught on big time in the workplace.

Many employees are using IM - whether or not their bosses are aware of it. Analyst firm Gartner expects IM to surpass email in worldwide traffic by 2006.

Growing use of IM - combined with low levels of monitoring - means that firms could fall foul of US regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act which requires auditing of all electronic communications, HDS warns.

European Sarbanes-Oxley likely

US regulators voted through Sarbanes-Oxley, hoping to avoid embarrassing accounting scandals such as Enron and WorldCom. This legislation applies to European companies which trade in the US.

Tony Reid, marketing director at Hitachi Data Systems, said the collapse of Parmalat in Italy could spur European regulators to enact similar regulations.

"While the figures in our research show few UK companies are currently scrutinizing IM, we expect the numbers to rise as they try to keep up with regulations," he added.

All this is great news for vendor of traffic management products to control IM and secure IM vendors. It's less fun for employees who cherish privacy in the workplace, always a shaky concept.

Mind the gap

HDS' survey shows the UK lags behind many European counterparts in tracking instant messaging. In France 60 per cent of IT directors quizzed said they monitor IM traffic, with 40 per cent saying they archive IM data. For Germany the figures are 41 per cent for monitoring and 18 per cent for archiving. Spain returns the highest figures - 70 per cent for monitoring and 63 per cent for archiving.

On average 36 per cent of companies surveyed across EMEA monitor IM and 26 per cent archive IM data.

"Part of the reason why companies have been slow to monitor IM may be that it was originally intended as a consumer tool. It has unexpectedly caught on among business users," said Tony Reid, a marketing director at Hitachi Data Systems. ®

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