Imagine the pandemic is finally over and you returned to the office. A colleague you haven’t caught up with for a long time walks up to say “Hi.” You pull a nearby chair and motion him to sit while a familiar voice booms in the hall: “What are you guys talking about? Can you email it and copy me?” This might sound like a scene from a dystopian movie, but, the truth is that employers actually have been able to invade the privacy of their employees in some ways during the pandemic, and this wasn't just for the ones working from home.
Live Eye Surveillance, a Seattle-based company, takes it to the next level and provides security systems to convenience stores like 7-Eleven; it employs “remote supervisors” who are real people sitting miles away behind the surveillance cameras, monitoring all activity captured by the tools.
The aim is to basically supervise the employees and keep an eye on their performance. While it might appear uncomfortable for the employees being watched, it actually turned out to be helpful in a recent incident; the company's surveillance tool prevented robbery at one of the stores, VICE reports.
When two men entered a 7-Eleven store with an assault rifle, the surveillance camera announced over the store's speakers: “This is Live Eye security. This is to inform you that you are under CCTV surveillance and we have called 911.” While this might sound like an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered feature, capable of predicting visitor behavior, it just wasn’t that sophisticated.
A survey conducted by Gartner in 2018 found that 22% of organizations worldwide tracked employee movement data while 17% were interested in work computer usage data. This was right before the pandemic and when remote work was relatively rare compared to now. Companies like Amazon and Walmart have patented badges or bracelets that enabled them to track employee movements and listen in on their conversations with peers and customers to track performance metrics, reports CNBC.
While companies aim to use these tools to boost productivity, there is a serious loss of privacy for employees. Lee Tien at Electronic Frontier Foundation says, “Employees are in a difficult position. It is hard for them to not agree”. To address these issues, he wants lawmakers to introduce laws that explicitly state a company can’t make employees agree to work while being watched by such technologies.