Tuesday 20 March 2018

Department of Finance staff keep tabs on house prices

Ruaidhri Giblin

Civil servants in the Department of Finance are frequently surfing the web to check property prices, new figures show.

A list of the top 50 websites visited by computers in Government Buildings, where the country's economy is managed by both the Department of Finance and Brendan Howlin's Public Expenditure and Reform, showed myhome.ie as the most popular non-news site among staff.

The site advertises properties for sale or for rent, and includes a property price register that publishes the values of recent transactions.

Three of the top four destinations for staff surfing the web in Government Buildings were streaming services from RTE's online video and radio player. A spokeswoman for RTE said the services were not show-specific and cover a wide range of streaming content.

Along with google.com, RTE's streaming services beat the most obvious destination for staff, finance.gov.ie.

Independent.ie and Irishtimes.com were in the top eight most-visited sites followed by Britain's Telegraph, Daily Mail and Guardian, in that order. The national broadcaster's homepage, RTE.ie, finished two places ahead of BBC.co.uk.

Also frequently visited were breakingnews.ie, Eircom.net and the umbrella site of online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Government Buildings, on Merrion Street, is occupied by a number of key State offices, including the Department of Finance, to which the list of most-visited websites between October and March relates. A spokesman said IT services were shared with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

He said the departments used web content filtering technology to block staff from accessing websites which fell under a number of default categories.

Categories of restricted websites include "adult material, advocacy groups, gambling, games, shopping, tasteless, vehicles, violence, weapons, drugs, militancy, extremism, racism and social networking".

The technology was one of the market leaders in web browsing filtering solutions, and was applied to every user on the department's network, a spokesman said.

Advertisers should know a lot about the internet habits of staff in Government Buildings as the list is dominated by tracker applications, which record users' habits for market research. The same applications appear on every internet servers' lists of most-visited URLs, or specific web addresses.

Last month, a study by corporate law firm William Fry found four in every five private sector employees accessed social media sites while at work.

According to the study, employees spend just under an hour every working day on websites such as Facebook and Twitter, accessing them from their own personal devices despite restrictions on office computers.

The report found that 47 per cent of employees believed that accessing social media during work hours decreased productivity while 38 per cent of employers agreed.

Irish Independent

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