By David Smith
You know that dystopian future that George Orwell painted in his famous book ’1984’? Well, what may have seen as paranoid and outlandish at the time the book was released is fast becoming reality.
While recent leaks by Edward Snowden revealed just how extensively the government was intruding on the privacy of citizens, there has been little effort or interest in covering the same practice in corporations.
Companies are increasingly being tempted to monitor, track, compare and rate their employees, right down to the level of eventually recording every employee statement and action.
The ubiquitous nature of technology has made tracking and monitoring a person easier than ever before and now employers are using more sophisticated methods than to play big brother.
Bank of America, for example has used sensor badges to monitor employee movements, tone of voice, how often they got up or talked to their fellow employees and a few other parameters. A similar technology was used by US Company Cubist Pharmaceuticals to determine how energetic employees were and the behaviour patterns that corresponded with high productivity.
All of this data is being collected in the name of predictive analysis and to maximize efficiency.
One of the more controversial monitoring issues is when workplace tracking extends beyond the workplace walls. Employees are sometimes being forced to download applications that would track their every movement, but what happens when your work follows you home?
The story of an employee at Intermex, who was required to download an app called Xora on her phone, went viral recently. Myrna Arias, the employee in question, found that this app continued to track her movement even when she was off the clock. She was fired for deleting this application because she did not want to be tracked during her personal hours.
Hitachi also recently unveiled a sociometric badge that purports to help measure the happiness index of an employee. The company’s top secret algorithm works by tracking the heart rate of the employee, the speed of walking, nodding your head, talking to other employees and overall physical activity.
Activities which promote employee happiness and push up productivity levels are then actively promoted to employees or may even be made mandatory.
It’s staggering to think that this sort of invasion of privacy is never talked about whenever concerns over tracking are discussed. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of this tracking and monitoring has the backing of the law.
Companies are well within their rights to monitor employee activity, movement and even communication if they can establish that it was work related. Most phones and laptops that are provided by the company come installed with tracking software, including keystroke logging, that provides the employer access to any and all communication.
This includes all websites visited, screen shots taken, social media, chat and instant messaging (IM) accessed, document tracking, and anything else accessed on company computers and phones.
These devices travel with employees to their homes and/or stay on their person more often than not.
With work becoming more remote than ever before, this delineation between company time and personal time is also becoming blurred. Bosses expect you to always reply to emails immediately even if you are at home or on vacation. Conference calls are frequently scheduled during vacation days with blatant disregard for the employee’s private time.
Should an employee be wary of doing something that may or may not please their employers all the time? Should there be no reasonable expectation of privacy?
It is only a matter of time before more and more employers start leveraging these technologies to track the lifestyles of their employees and mold them to suit their needs through positive and negative reinforcement.
The future that Orwell imagined with big brother breathing down our necks is well and truly here.
There’s nothing new about employers intruding into the private lives of their employees. I recall reading extracts from the employment contract of a nineteenth century shop assistant, that dictated where she socialised, the time she should be home after socialising, mandatory Church attendance etc.
The only difference now, is they are able to snoop on you, to make sure you comply with their control-freak demands.