The Future of Workplace Monitoring is Shocking

April 13. 2017. 5 mins read
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Maybe the biggest scam ever perpetuated in today’s modern age is to convince us to do something we would rather not be doing for 30% of our lives in exchange for a giant house full of space we don’t really need, a car that we use 5% of the time, and a 401K that will likely not even be enough to give us a happy retirement. While this is clearly a first world problem, it just doesn’t seem right.

What makes this matter even worse is that, nowadays, corporate America (yes, we own our ethnocentrism and excuse it with the fact that 70% of our readers are Americans) is also making it a right chore to eek out a living because of things like perpetual “cost cutting initiatives”. Getting a raise isn’t something you can expect anymore, nor is job security. It used to be that John in Mumbai was taking all the jobs but now its the robots. To make matters even worse, the extent to which employers are going to ensure they squeeze every last drop of value out of your withered carcass is in some cases shocking. Let’s take workplace monitoring as an example.

What if your employer decided that they wanted to track your every move, and that they wanted to inject a chip under your skin to do so? The chip will deactivate outside of work hours. Do you think people would stand for that form of workplace monitoring? Absolutely not. People would go mental. Now what if we just decided to make you wear the same device around your neck and call it a “wearable”? Would that be ok? Read on.

Workplace Monitoring by Humanyze

Click for company websiteFounded in 2011, Humanyze is a startup based in Boston, Massachusetts that has taken in $5 million so far from 2 rounds of funding. The Company was a spin-off from MIT Media Lab when it used to be called Sociometric Solutions. The technology is built around the Sociometric® Badge which is your bog standard employee badge except that it’s equipped with a Bluetooth connection, an accelerometer, a microphone, and other tools to “measure human interaction” in the workplace. 

The device measures things like how people moved through the day, who they interacted with, what their tone of voice was like, and other types of interactions that happen at every company, every day. It can even tell if you lean in to listen when you’re speaking to people. Yes, you better be leaning in like Sheryl Sandberg told you to, you sexist pig. Or is it the women who are supposed to lean in? We’re not really sure, but this workplace monitoring device is going to make sure you’re behaving in whatever manner the firm you work for deems appropriate. And don’t even think about raising your voice.

There are 40 different types of information that are recorded, and all that monitoring takes up a whole lot of space. The badge can actually store up to 4 gigabytes of data which is uploaded to the cloud daily and then aggregated so that you can then go to a dashboard and see how behavior is affecting “the bottom line”:

Yes, it’s all anonymized, the company takes privacy seriously, blah blah blah. There’s a whole load of things that are supposed to make you feel better about having 40 different attributes of your behavior scrutinized. What really matters though are the actual results that are achieved by using all that big data. Using this badge, Bank of America saw stress among employees drop by 19 percent, with the “ability to communicate well” rising up to 18 percent. This consequently resulted in employee turnover rates going down by 28 percent, and call completion among customer service agents improving by 23 percent, all of which generated savings of roughly $15 million annually. The technology is currently implemented in three banks (Bank of America included), a pharmaceutical company, an online travel company, a major oil company, and a multinational tech company. Here’s what the sinister device looks like:

We’re not really sure about how other people feel about having to wear this cattle tag human interaction analysis wearable but if we were asked to wear something like that we would tell human resources to go fcuk themselves in so many words. The fact is though, there are many other ways to monitor your behavior without having to result to making your employees wear a tracking device.

In a recent article we talked about “7 Startups Giving Artificial Intelligence (AI) Emotions” and one of the companies mentioned was called Receptiviti. If you recall, the technology being developed by Receptiviti is capable of analyzing written text in order to determine things like emotions, social concerns, thinking styles, and psychology. While you can do fun stuff with it like analyze Taylor Swift’s profound contributions to the vapid Twitter universe, they also claim to be “reinventing the science of human capital” or another way they put it is that it’s “like X-ray vision for your organization”.

Now, every single thing you type could be subjected to some AI algorithm that’s going to decide if you’re called into HR or not after you give John in Mumbai a verbal lashing for being so recipe driven. This sort of monitoring can happen behind the scenes, passively. Getting a bit pissed off with that customer who won’t read the manual? Add a dose of sarcasm in your email and it just might end up set aside in a special folder so that someone can make sure you’re putting the customer first.

What should make you the most frustrated about this is that human resources, the sort of people that throw money at garbage “HR technology solutions” like Taleo and Workday, are the very same people who are implementing these workplace monitoring tools that treat you like some sort of parolee. We certainly understand the concept of operational risk, and some jobs will require a higher degree of workplace monitoring than others, but wearing a badge that tracks your every move? Is that really needed? Speaking of operational risk, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the companies using technologies like machine learning to manage their operational risk in a coming article. Stay tuned and in the meantime, let us know what you think about this badge. Would you wear one? Are we just being paranoid Luddites?


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