Voracious eyes in the workplace

Wed, February 19, 2014

Brace yourself: The days when we can stare mindlessly at our computer screens, or get up 10 times to go to the bathroom to stave off 3 p.m. sleepiness, or pick our noses in the sanctity of our offices, may be over for good.

The ever-present, ubiquitous data vacuum has turned it voracious eyes to your workplace. According to research done by the Economist Intelligent Unit of data analytics company Evolv, an impossbily Orwellian name if I've ever heard one, over 50% of human resources departments globally increased their use of data analytics in the name of workplace productivity. Employers are scooping up information about you that goes beyond performance reviews or how often you've been late. This data includes how much you interact with your supervisor, the time it takes you get to the office, and how often you get up from your desk (the last one is a specialty of a company called Sociometric Solutions (seriously with the Orwell) which puts sensors in name badges to figure out "social dynamics at work" by looking at things like your movement and your tone of voice. Evolv says it helps employers make hiring and firing decisions, as well as determine how productive you are.

Tone of voice? All of this honestly seems completely wacky to me and just another way for the data industry to keep itself going to the money trough. But employers are buying into it, with Evolv analyzing more than a half a billion data points last year alone.

People on the industry side of things are always telling us privacy advocates that consumer education is the key to responsible data usage, and by that they mean give them lengthy, unreadable privacy policies and a bunch of tips of navigating the murky waters of online privacy, website by website and app by app. And we do — but how exactly can I tell you to protect yourself when your tone of voice is being monitored at work? Smoke a pack of cigarettes the night before?

The data broker and data analytics industry is exploding and is clearly veering out of control. Everyday new and disturbing revelations about the broad collection of personal information is made known. Congress needs to act immediately with smart data protection laws that slap some of these companies back into reality. Unless maybe members don't mind their every movement being recorded at work?

— Michelle De Mooy

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