"The Ethics of Workplace Surveillance: Balancing Data Collection with Employee Privacy"

  • 23.04.10 / 이해인
Date 2023-04-10 Hit 5097

Alejandro A. Ramirez Professor
College of Business Administration

 

 

AI has many applications in the workplace, but one of the preconditions for its proper functioning is access to good quality 5-star data. Companies and organizations need to monitor, record, organize, and store data from their internal processes such as invoicing, purchasing, transportation, and so on. One of the biggest ethical questions is raised when this data concerns people. If data about customers, for example, can have high volumes, and be anonymized already at the collection stage, data about their own employees is much more problematic.

Organizations want to collect employee data in order to implement AI-assisted human resource management, which has as its goal a more satisfied and ultimately more productive workforce. In order to collect employee data, companies use monitoring and surveillance, and have historically done so. Digital technologies have increased the potential for employers to gather information about the people who work for them at an unprecedented level of detail, which immediately raises concerns about privacy and about joining the border between the private and the public or work spheres.

Everyone who has ever called a customer service help line is familiar with the message, “This call may be monitored for our internal records,” or something of this nature. Well, the recorded conversations constitute data used by companies, such as Cogito, to feed an AI algorithm that identifies the degree of empathy in the voice of the employees and quantifies the speed with which they responded to customer questions or soft completes. The outcome of the algorithmic processes serves as a ground for promotion or penalty. Cogito is not the only company to do this. According to an article by Bales and Stone from 2020, Slack monitors their employees'speed in performing their assigned tasks and can even assess when someone may be dozing off or misbehaving.

There are companies whose entire business idea revolves around work and monitoring, such as Veriato, whose software is used to track remote workers' digital activities on company-owned devices, especially relevant in work from home situations. The software monitors and records various types of digital activities, including geolocation, social media activity, log on/log off times, keystrokes, and screenshots of employees' devices. KeenCorp is another people monitoring company whose software relies on computational linguistics to quantify an employee's level of engagement as reflected in their electronic correspondence.The engagement score is high when the
employee's emails indicate positive feelings, and low when the algorithms flag for negative emotions.

Monitoring is not only screen-based. OccupEye has installed sensors in employees' chairs to monitor how often employees tak breaks away from their desks. Famously, Amazon has a pattern for a tracking bracelet for its warehouse workers to guide them to the right place in the gigantic storage spaces, but also to monitor their every step. Even though it appears that these wristbands have not been used in real life, Amazon has another tracking system in place that includes times of task. If an employee is away from performing the assigned task for too long, the system sends a warning. If no correction ensues after several warnings, the algorithm prepares a lay-off letter that fires the low-productivity worker. Even if the decision is formally taken by a human manager, it appears that in a great majority of cases, humans just follow the software recommendations.

Smart glasses, caps that measure brain activity to detect fatigue, exoskeletons that
enhance workers' strength but also gather data about their physical state, badges that record employees' conversations, and track their exact geolocation. The list is too long to give any details. It is enough to be aware that the technology for employee surveillance is here, it is very sophisticated, and is already in use in factories and offices and wherever people may work, already now.

 

Prof. Alejandro A. Ramirez
Reporters

ramirez@koomin.ac.kr

"The Ethics of Workplace Surveillance: Balancing Data Collection with Employee Privacy"

Date 2023-04-10 Hit 5097

Alejandro A. Ramirez Professor
College of Business Administration

 

 

AI has many applications in the workplace, but one of the preconditions for its proper functioning is access to good quality 5-star data. Companies and organizations need to monitor, record, organize, and store data from their internal processes such as invoicing, purchasing, transportation, and so on. One of the biggest ethical questions is raised when this data concerns people. If data about customers, for example, can have high volumes, and be anonymized already at the collection stage, data about their own employees is much more problematic.

Organizations want to collect employee data in order to implement AI-assisted human resource management, which has as its goal a more satisfied and ultimately more productive workforce. In order to collect employee data, companies use monitoring and surveillance, and have historically done so. Digital technologies have increased the potential for employers to gather information about the people who work for them at an unprecedented level of detail, which immediately raises concerns about privacy and about joining the border between the private and the public or work spheres.

Everyone who has ever called a customer service help line is familiar with the message, “This call may be monitored for our internal records,” or something of this nature. Well, the recorded conversations constitute data used by companies, such as Cogito, to feed an AI algorithm that identifies the degree of empathy in the voice of the employees and quantifies the speed with which they responded to customer questions or soft completes. The outcome of the algorithmic processes serves as a ground for promotion or penalty. Cogito is not the only company to do this. According to an article by Bales and Stone from 2020, Slack monitors their employees'speed in performing their assigned tasks and can even assess when someone may be dozing off or misbehaving.

There are companies whose entire business idea revolves around work and monitoring, such as Veriato, whose software is used to track remote workers' digital activities on company-owned devices, especially relevant in work from home situations. The software monitors and records various types of digital activities, including geolocation, social media activity, log on/log off times, keystrokes, and screenshots of employees' devices. KeenCorp is another people monitoring company whose software relies on computational linguistics to quantify an employee's level of engagement as reflected in their electronic correspondence.The engagement score is high when the
employee's emails indicate positive feelings, and low when the algorithms flag for negative emotions.

Monitoring is not only screen-based. OccupEye has installed sensors in employees' chairs to monitor how often employees tak breaks away from their desks. Famously, Amazon has a pattern for a tracking bracelet for its warehouse workers to guide them to the right place in the gigantic storage spaces, but also to monitor their every step. Even though it appears that these wristbands have not been used in real life, Amazon has another tracking system in place that includes times of task. If an employee is away from performing the assigned task for too long, the system sends a warning. If no correction ensues after several warnings, the algorithm prepares a lay-off letter that fires the low-productivity worker. Even if the decision is formally taken by a human manager, it appears that in a great majority of cases, humans just follow the software recommendations.

Smart glasses, caps that measure brain activity to detect fatigue, exoskeletons that
enhance workers' strength but also gather data about their physical state, badges that record employees' conversations, and track their exact geolocation. The list is too long to give any details. It is enough to be aware that the technology for employee surveillance is here, it is very sophisticated, and is already in use in factories and offices and wherever people may work, already now.

 

Prof. Alejandro A. Ramirez
Reporters

ramirez@koomin.ac.kr

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