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Spying on employees: Big companies become spy Bureau


Walmart, Credit Suisse and others in control of personal life

Слежка за сотрудниками: Крупные компании стали шпионскими бюро


Modern technologies allow employers to monitor not only employees ‘ productivity, but also to predict important events and decisions in the lives of his subordinates — and to use this information. In February it became known that large corporations like Walmart and Time Warner use big data to learn about serious diseases or pregnancy employees.

The news received a mixed reception, experts on Internet security, corporate culture researchers and other experts argue, is it ethical to monitor not only performance, but also the private lives of employees. Employers were justified, citing cost savings and the opportunity to improve the efficiency of production. The “secret” figured out how and why companies monitor employees.

Health and pregnancy

To optimize the cost of the medical insurance companies are hiring contractors that analyze large amounts of data. As a result we are able to quantify the risks of Contracting staff, and possibly prevent the disease. For example, if the system decides that you consume too many sweets and you have the risk of developing diabetes, it will send you messages, encourage them to enroll in a slimming program. Early prevention allows companies not to spend money on expensive treatment in the future.

Thanks to a recent report by The Wall Street Journal revealed that analytical tools from companies like Castlight Healthcare Inc. let you know about planned pregnancy employees, or about pregnancy in the early period before the employee reported it to human resources. The program analyzes the reference to the doctor, written prescriptions, search queries and other data. Among the customers of Castlight many large American companies such as Wal — Mart and Time Warner.


Services Castlight seem a gross invasion of personal space, but the company has an excuse: she did not disclose the names of specific employees. Analytics only shows how many crew members are trying to become pregnant or at risk of developing diabetes, and reveals trends that affect at least 40 people (otherwise it is possible to calculate the identity of persons with a particular disease).

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According to the experts, even anonymous surveillance may cause harm to employees: if the employer thought that only 15% of women can get pregnant, but in fact their 30%, this can lead to the fact that the company, for example, will refuse hiring women. Even without naming specific names, the organization may discriminate against some workers. Nicolas Terry, Professor of law school of Indiana University in Bloomington, says that while people are almost powerless in front of such programmes, because there are no laws that control what data companies can get in. “Employers should strive for maximum transparency and to prove that this is done only for the benefit of the employees,” he concludes.

The productivity of freelancers and remote employees

The company operates oDesk for freelancers who are getting paid by the hour. One of the products of the company called Work Diary is to receive a fee, employees must agree that the employer will monitor their productivity. Every 10 minutes the program makes a snapshot of the desktop. In addition, it collects information about the speed of keystrokes and mouse movements. In case the screenshot is made just in the moment when you went to check your social networks or received a message from her boyfriend, it is possible to preview the resulting image and if necessary delete it. However, if you delete a snapshot, you do not get money for the worked period of time.

At the request of the reporter for Harper’s Magazine, one of the most productive polzovateley oDesk Work Diary told how she manages to constantly get high scores. It turned out that she invented a sophisticated system bypass rules. Working on the transcript for the article, the woman always removes the first screenshot. When decryption is finished, she reads the text without going to oDesk, because at this time the keyboard is not required, and the system takes into account the number of keystrokes. It turns out, to receive the promised income, you need to work more than what customers, but it helps to compete with the less resourceful freelancers.

Some scientists believe that the surveillance may have a negative impact on productivity. Professor of social psychology Rutgers University John Aiello researched electronic tools for the surveillance of workers for many years and came to the conclusion that it is often harmful to program staff: “If you follow someone very closely, they can solve that before you trusted them, and now the confidence is lost; this may lead to deterioration in performance because of the attention people spent on the idea that someone is watching over them.”

Surveillance of disloyal employees

Supermarket chain Walmart is one of the most innovative companies in the field of collecting and using big data. The retailer has a special unit that is responsible for this work, is the center of analytical studies (by The Analytical Research Center, or ARC). It is headed by Ken Senser, a former employee of the FBI. Head of Superior on — former Director of the state police Arkansas Steve Dozier. Among the companies cooperating with Walmart, is Lockheed Martin, which is known as one of the largest defense contractors in the world: it makes rocket launchers, military aircraft and develops digital services for special services. Now program spy organization needs and major employers — so they hope to take control of thousands of state workers.

Last year employees of a large supermarket chain Walmart has accused the employer in the use of technology Lockheed Martin. A special programme followed social networks and blogs of the employees before the strike that the Union staged a Walmart in black Friday 2012. The court has not yet ended, however, the trade Union action forced the network to increase the minimum wage from $9 to $10 an hour.

Walmart (as well as the Bank Credit Suisse, a startup Box Inc. and many other major companies) uses programs that allow you to predict which employee is going to resign. Service VoloMetrix analyzes information’s HR Department, as well as anonymised data from the correspondence and calendars of employees. The software can predict the dismissal even for the year, if the employee interacts less with certain colleagues and less attending meetings (if this is not a compulsory meeting), he, most likely, is preparing to leave the company.

Customers VoloMetrix Inc. argue that such software is necessary to prevent churn, and not in order to punish those who decided to find another job. In addition, the program helps to replace staff, which will soon increase. At Walmart 160 000 — 170 000 people get promoted every year, so the company uses big data to find out who is more likely to advance her career and find a worker for a position.

Smart electronics for tracking the movements

Some companies offer their customers not only to track employee activity on the Internet and on their computers, but also devices that allow to determine how the employee moves. For example, such equipment is manufactured by Sociometric Solutions — it uses RFID chips, which stick in badges for each employee. The chips don’t record the conversations, but read and analyse the tone and intonation of the conversations.

Sounds like a device reproducing the PANOPTICON, the English philosopher and jurist of the eighteenth century Jeremiah Bentham. In his same work he described an ideal prison, where the guard can see every prisoner. However, the creators of the developers of Sociometric Solutions does not believe that their technology make the employees into slaves. In their view, the information gathered can be useful both for top managers and their subordinates. With the help of chips, many companies have found that the ability to communicate with colleagues has a positive effect on the productivity: people exchange ideas and give each other helpful hints to attract customers. Thanks to the surveillance of some organizations — for example, call center Bank of America — introduced the 15-minute coffee breaks, and one pharmaceutical company increased the size of the room for snacking. This has helped to reduce staff turnover and increase sales.

Proliferation of cheap chips helps companies involved in shipping: with tracking of cars they managed to significantly increase their productivity. Telematics (or vehicle tracking system) allows you to monitor every move of the driver, the managers see not only the route, number and duration of stops, but can check to see if the buckled seat belt, how often the door opens the trunk and so on. After you start using telematics, UPS has built into every car about 200 sensors, and now the efficiency of delivery increased significantly: only ten years ago, the driver usually did about 85 stops a day, and now — more than a hundred.

UPS claims that the chips help to save fuel, but the system has its drawbacks: to make 110 stops and deliver 400 parcels, a UPS employee should work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with devices to track drivers is greatly overworked and often violate safety rules, to manage to complete all tasks on time. According to eyewitnesses, on the bases UPS during shift change, you may often see people with neck injuries, shoulders, knees and other body parts — in a hurry shifting boxes and trying to fulfill goals dictated by the new requirements, they have maimed themselves.

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