Trevor usually spends about six hours each year shopping online for Christmas presents at the office. A few years back he would save the final step, making the actual purchase, for his home PC. But now he feels comfortable enough to pull out his personal credit card and empty his shopping cart while still on his work PC. Yes, Trevor (not his real name) knows he is violating the formal acceptable use policy. Still, he silently justifies his actions by remembering his excellent performance appraisals. Besides, everyone is doing it...\u00a0\u00a0 \u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0So he we go again. We\u2019re re-asking the same questions we thought we put to bed years ago. Questions like: Is the acceptable use policy really acceptable? Who can use social networks and smartphones and for what purpose? Digging deeper, how do employees truly decide what not to do online at work? \u00a0In our new world full of social networking sites, personal smartphones, Internet banking, telework and an infinite number of Internet distractions, both managers and staff find themselves redefining acceptable use \u2013 again. Despite a decade of training programs outlining cyber threats, employees continue to ignore the risks and push for more Internet freedom.\u00a0Meanwhile, the \u201cconsumerization of IT\u201d ensures that the gray areas continue to grow larger and more complex. The hottest new technology devices become must haves for the innovative millennial, even if they pose a risk to business networks or distract employees. Cuts in business and government spending haven\u2019t slowed the trend \u2013 with more employees now bringing personally-owned technology to work. Bottom line, the unspoken \u201cacceptable\u201d line keeps moving.\u00a0\u00a0 (In case you're wondering, Michigan Government's Acceptable Use\u00a0Policy states that use of the Internet is for business purposes only. And no, my friend "Trevor" is not a state employee.)Still, there are plenty of simplistic answers to these questions such as \u201cjust enforce the policy 100%,\u201d but that is a bit like saying \u201cjust stop speeding on highways\u201d or \u201celiminate all crime.\u201d Meanwhile, management\u00a0sometimes looks the other way (in real life) if top performers are delivering results, but crack down for problem staff. Some private sector executives even employ tactics like relaxing workplace rules when salaries are cut. This reaction can become a slippery slope. Other workplaces openly allow employees to shop at work in their policies. Nevertheless, there are almost always some actions that are forbidden for security reasons, productivity loss\u00a0or because actions could create a hostile work environment. Bottom line, workplace polices will eventually be tested by some employees.\u00a0Looking at the way we were\u2026 Back in 1997, when I joined state government, you needed a special waiver from the Department Director to use the Internet. There were no filters and few, if any, firewalls to protect (or stop) employees from accessing content on the world-wide web. Granting access was a business decision that tended to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Over time, everyone was given the connectivity and the filters started getting more sophisticated. Policies were created defining "acceptable" online actions.\u00a0Fast-forward more than 13 years, and we\u2019re asking the same questions. However, instead of organizations around the world blocking Internet access, organizations now block social networks and\/or\u00a0specific categories. Some companies are doing fast policy pendulum swings regarding social networks, with\u00a0many\u00a0businesses embracing them and others blocking them. The interesting part is that some blockers from a year ago are now advocates of Facebook and several previous advocates are blockers. Shopping, sports websites and other portals\u00a0are often\u00a0handled in similar ways.\u00a0While virtually everyone sees the business benefits with reaching customers online, the dark side regarding productivity for the masses is still the six billion dollar question. Regardless of current policies, it seems as if we are all\u00a0heading down the same path that we did in the 90s, with Web 2.0 substituting for Web 1.0.\u00a0(Yes, they\u2019ll probably be a 3.0 in another decade. Perhaps that will be virtual worlds, more videos or some other aspect of online life.)\u00a0\u00a0 So what are some answers? \u00a0A recent article from the Wall Street Journal may offer some hints. \u00a0The article is entitled: Shunned Profiling Method On the Verge of Comeback. While this article addresses \u201copting in\u201d as a way to get buy-in from the privacy community on monitoring, remember that there is generally no presumption of privacy on work PCs. These same technologies can help manage the complexities of what allowed and what\u2019s not at work - while improving security.\u00a0\u00a0Bottom line,\u00a0answers require us\u00a0to go\u00a0back to the basic boss\/employee accountability questions. I think the answer is to build traditional trust, transparency and accountability in the business areas, in the same way we build trust in other areas of office life. Give the supervisor the ability to see who, what, where, and how much their employees are surfing online. This will actually build trust and create the right balance within the ever-changing online world. The answer is more openess in the gray areas, not less. I know that this sounds like a lot of work. We want to simplify processes and handle everything automatically.\u00a0But social networking and shopping and "the cloud" can get complicated. How much is too much? Is work being performed or impacted? Are you complying with policies? All these questions require judgment to answer in an "acceptable" way. Note to vendors:\u00a0management\u00a0needs easy to read summary reports on employee surfing activities that enable more trust to be built and management discretion to be applied. \u00a0This might even help during the holiday shopping season.\u00a0Back to Trevor, who has just heard about this article from his co-workers: Wal-Mart offering free shipping for online buys . I guess it\u2019s time to check out the Black Friday sales.