Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Can My Boss See My Mail and Instant Messages?

Your boss can see everything.

When using your company's machine and/or network, it's safe to assume that your boss or IT department can see your emails, instant messages, and everything else.
The Best of Ask Leo!
Question: I sent a co-worker an instant message regarding our boss through an instant messaging app. (We were both in the same office at the time). My boss was seen at my desk looking through my computer. He has spyware installed on the system. Can he retrieve my old message that I sent to my co-worker?

Oh my, could they ever. Yes. Definitely, yes, they could.

I hope what you said wasn’t too awful.

Even if they weren’t standing at your desk, there are several ways they could keep track of what you’re doing with your computer.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!


Your boss can see everything

Because the company you work for provides both the equipment and networking, they have the right to see how it’s being used. That means there are several ways they can monitor what you’re doing. Do they? There’s no way to know for certain, so it’s best to assume they can see everything.

At your computer

Obviously, if they’re standing at your desk looking through your computer, everything that you can see, they can see. If someone has physical access to your computer, then of course they can see everything that’s on it. If your chat program allows you to scroll back through your chat history, then they could easily do the same.

All bets are off if they have physical access.

But it gets worse.

Remote monitoring

What’s not as obvious is that many businesses can and do install monitoring software, or spyware.

They can install this either directly on your computer, or on the machines that control your access to the network. In the latter case:

  • You might never realize it.
  • They could be logging all traffic.

If they do log all activity, it could then be viewed from anywhere the company allows it.

Once again, your boss could easily see what you’ve been up to.

Do this

Remember, when you’re using any communications program, even if the person you’re chatting with is sitting right next to you, the messages will travel across networking equipment your company owns and may monitor.

And, of course, they could easily have spyware (aka “monitoring software”) installed so that even if there’s no networking involved at all, they can still keep tabs on your activity.

Do they? There’s no way to know, really. If there’s a privacy or security policy in your employee handbook, that may provide a clue.

But the bottom line is, it’s really the company’s machine, and you should assume that all your emails, messages, everything is visible to your boss, his boss, and your company’s IT department.

Your privacy ends where your paycheck begins.

Podcast audio


9 comments on “Can My Boss See My Mail and Instant Messages?”

  1. Instant messages are ONLY recorded if they are set to save. If you dont want people to see the logs just go to Tools -> Options -> Messages, then click OFF the option to keep the history…..Either that or just dont talk about your boss over messenger lol

    Might be wize following the link in the options and deletings your old logs to, you are entitled to your privacy after all.

  2. I am a teenage girl and I think it is a total violation of privacy for a parent to rumage through their kid’s IM messages unless they have high suspicions (sp?) that their kid is up too something dangerous/illegal.

  3. Hi I use my AOL account for personal use on my company’s laptop If my company monitors or ever looks at my laptop can they access/track my AOL emails or websites that I have visited ? Will it help if I clear my footprint/do disc clean ups and delete emails or save them to my aol account?


  4. If you have a university email address, the university is your email service provider (ESP) in the same way Gmail, Hotmail or anyone who provides you with an email address is an ESP. The administrators of that server have access to all of the emails that pass through their servers. It might be a good idea to treat that account as you would for any company you work for and be careful about how you use that email account. Unlike many companies, universities don’t discourage you from using your university address for personal emails, but considering the access they have to your emails, I’d think twice about using it for personal correspondence.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.