Monitoring employees: How far is too far?

over 1 year ago by Sophie Stones

Monitoring employees: How far is too far?


It was recently announced that Amazon, who haven’t taken recent criticism of their already controversial tracking systems to heart, have filed a patent for ‘spy goggles’ to be used by employees to track ‘orientation and accelerometer data’. In layman’s terms, the goggles could measure everything from walking speed to the exact location of the wearer.

Whilst Amazon seem to have inadvertently stoked their own fire of backlash, they aren’t the first to utilise tracking devices in the workplace.

Monitoring employees has always been a part of work-life, however whereas in the past this may have relied on an eagle-eyed foreman, sophisticated technologies are making sure none of us are safe from Big Brother.

Many of these technologies move away from workplaces that rely on transparency and instead display a glaring lack of trust. Brad Miller, CEO of Awareness Technologies, a company who offer packages which monitor every element of an employee’s activity, compared workers to teenagers who haven’t finished their homework, invoking accusations of condescension.

Both Barclays and The Daily Telegraph have enlisted the help of OccupEye, heat motion sensors which measure how long an employee is at their desk. Whilst they’re pitched as a way to find out how you can reduce office space, worries that they could be used to find out how to reduce staff, led The Daily Telegraph to remove them the very same day.

Probably the most controversial of all, last year Three Square Market held a ‘chip party’, where employees could have a microchip inserted into their hand. Able to open doors, log on to computers, and make payments at vending machines, 80% of employees at the firm are now chipped.

Also using the chips in dementia patients, Three Square Market demonstrate that monitoring has been used in positive ways. From Crossrail workers using wristbands which detect fatigue, to the Harvard Business Review, who disproved the notion that women need to ‘lean in’, by monitoring interactions between different genders. Utilising tech developed by Humanyze, HBR outfitted employees with badges which tracked who people talk to, how long those talks last and even the mood of the person. Disproving their theory that difference in promotion rates between men and women was due to women lacking access to seniority, the study actually concluded that there were “no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women” and that “in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores”.

Most monitoring companies will attempt to put a positive spin on their product, however as we move into a truly digital age, it’s important to keep our eyes open and the goggles off, or risk living out an episode of Black Mirror. So whilst Wiretap may claim “having the visibility allows you to step in productively”, we must take companies like Teramind, who monitor people switching between applications, Digital Reasoning, who monitor when someone suggests moving to a private conversation, and Crossover, who take photos through employees webcams every 10 minutes, with a large pinch of salt.