Companies have been monitoring their employees for years, in a variety of ways. Employers are using key-logging technology to monitor workers’ keystrokes and Internet-tracking software to log the sites that employees visit. Ars Technica and others reported on Xora, a job-management app that was used by one business to track employees even when they were off the clock. The latest in workplace monitoring concerns employee badges as well as gathering social-media data on workers.
Businesses have been tracking the movements of their workers in various ways, including through GPS-enabled smartphones and tablets. “Etta Epps, a UPS delivery driver for 10 years,” reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “said she is keenly aware of the shipping giant’s surveillance of her actions through GPS and sensors in her truck.” “You’re so conscious every day of trying not to do this or not to do that because you know you’re being monitored,” Epps said.
Now, there is a new type of badge that can track employees even more closely. Humanyze, a Boston company, has created special surveillance badges that can be used in the workplace. “Each has two microphones doing real-time voice analysis, and each comes with sensors that follow where you are in the office, with motion detectors to record how much you move. The beacons tracking your movements are omitted from bathroom locations, to give you some privacy,” the Washington Post reports.
Supposedly, it is “up to the employee to decide whether they want to participate.” However, I can easily see the choice being “use the badge or we’ll make it unduly burdensome for you to do your job without it.” There is a power dynamic with employers and employees that could be coercive if a worker is given such a choice, one that strongly implicates individual privacy. And the technology could become hard to avoid. The Post reports: “Humanyze has already sold thousands of these gizmos for Fortune 2000 companies around the world.”
Another development in employee monitoring has to do with the tracking of social media use. For a while, there was increasing public attention to the fact that some employers were requiring job applicants or employees to hand over their passwords or allow access to their private accounts on social-networking sites in order to gather personal data when the social-networking profiles are closed to the public. States including California, Delaware, Illinois and Maryland passed laws to protect employees from such prying by employers; Maryland’s law includes exemptions for employers for some investigations into possible wrongdoing by employees.
But the latest type of employer surveillance of social media concerns analysis of public social-media data. “A start-up that tracks an individual’s job search activity in public social media accounts is quietly … calculating a score it says helps represent how likely each one is to be looking for a job,” the Washington Post reports about Joberate. The company “then shares these scores with clients — typically to help employers keep tabs on talented outsiders or see how engaged their own workers are in their jobs.”
Clients do have access to individual workers’ data, says co-founder and chief executive Michael Beygelman, but he tells the Post that “most clients” don’t currently use it that way. However, we have seen technology created for one use expand to other uses. Ultimately, the trend is toward increasing surveillance of workers, which could profoundly affect individual privacy.