As I see it: work from home

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November 1, 2021

Victor rozek

Data collection and confidentiality weren’t much of an issue during the Constitution debate, which may explain why these words don’t appear anywhere in the document. Gossip was probably the biggest threat to privacy at the time.

At best, privacy is implicit in the Bill of Rights. But while the government cannot house soldiers in your house willy-nilly, there are plenty of other digital intruders who can house your residence; tools specially designed to invade your privacy. And while social media has long sucked in all available personal data, a subclass of the population is increasingly targeted for surveillance and data collection: the remote workforce.

As the coronavirus pandemic moves from peak to peak, spreading new variants as a homeless dog spreads fleas, employers face a challenge that would have been daunting just decades ago: to know, how do you keep track of what people are doing when they are doing it from home?

For various reasons, a significant portion of the workforce still prefers home rule when it comes to their workplace. Of course, the risk of infection is one, but the cost and length of commuting, or the inability to find suitable childcare services, make the home office a desirable alternative.

Unable to force enough people back to the office, employers took to heart Ronald Regan’s favorite oxymoronic Russian proverb: trust but verify. Comrade, since you are working from home, we are giving you a very special gift: monitoring software. More and more, people who work from home are doing it under a microscope.

Recently Tatum Hunter wrote a full article on the subject for The Washington Post. Of all the disturbing information she gave, the following were perhaps the most disturbing:

“Almost all types of employee surveillance are completely legal,” according to Emory Roane, privacy advisor at the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “In general, you have very, very, very light protections, if any, for employee privacy.” Especially if the company has your signature affixed to a form which authorizes the exercise under condition of employment.

So what exactly are management authorized to watch?

Just about anything you do electronically can be collected and analyzed.

There are several monitoring software applications and not all of them perform each of the functions listed below. But the full range of features is available and will likely appear in future releases.

A company-supplied computer can provide information from your keyboard: When you sign out and back in. How long and how often you type. How long does it take you to respond to emails. How much time do you spend scrolling through social media and what you type.

If you use a corporate Internet connection, they can track the sites you visit and read emails sent from company accounts. Some monitoring software can set up keyword alerts, search for profanity or criticism of management or the company. Terminations may result.

Even a personal device, if routed through a corporate network, will reveal your browser’s searches.

Collaboration tools like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Slack can be monitored and so-called private conversations can be retrieved. The surveillance software can also capture video conferences from applications like Zoom.

Data can also be collected from your microphone and speakers, so people in your home close enough to your computer can be inadvertently recorded. Your camera is also vulnerable. Some apps will take intermittent photos of you and intermittent screenshots of your desktop. And if you leave your home, there are smartphone apps that can send location information to the business in real time.

Even people whose work does not require the use of desktops are being monitored. Hunter reports that Amazon “has deployed tracking technology for drivers and warehouse workers.” Workers are forced to sign “biometric consent” forms that allow machine learning surveillance cameras to track their every move. Maybe Bezos can watch his fleet of trucks and warehouse gnomes from space. Refuse to sign and you are free to seek other employment.

About 60% of large companies currently use surveillance software, but it is only a matter of time before the practice takes hold. Generally speaking, we don’t use surveillance technology because we should; we use it because we can. And the power of oversight is addictive. We only have to look at China to see where full spectrum surveillance is heading.

Of course, everything is done in the name of productivity and to make sure employees stay focused. But everything is sold as being well intentioned, until it is not. In the short term, managers will analyze their new mountains of data. Maybe they will find an occasional cybersecurity breach, or the theft of sensitive or proprietary information. Maybe they will learn something valuable about their employees.

But more likely, over time, the underlying threat of constant surveillance will create a docile, obedient, paranoid workforce, creatively choked, full of suppressed anger and resentment. But maybe that’s the point.

Hunter quotes Allen Holub, a software consultant, who talks about the self-defeating nature of employee monitoring. “If you think your employees are going to rob you, it’s a hiring problem. And if you are worried that they are not doing their job, then you have failed to create a system that gives them incentives – maybe they don’t get a fair wage or their contributions at work don’t seem meaningful. .

Americans are quitting their jobs in unprecedented numbers. While the Big Quit hasn’t decimated the tech industry as much as it crushed leisure and food services, the drivers of dissatisfaction are universal. Repetitive and unsatisfactory work; insufficient wages; lack of creativity; lack of meaning; inhuman working conditions; prejudice; limited possibility of advancement. Surveillance does nothing to respond to these discontents. It simply assumes the worst of human nature and deploys the latest spyware, artificial intelligence, and self-learning systems, casting a million dollar net to catch ten dollar fish.

Perhaps there is a much cheaper and much more efficient approach that would bypass the need for remote worker monitoring altogether. No hardware or software required. No consultants, no advanced analyzes. Just take Aretha Franklin’s advice: a little respect does a lot of good.


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