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Why is employee surveillance on the rise?

Growing technological advancements brought not only improved working conditions, but also more sophisticated and rigid monitoring methods. The pandemic moved our offices to our home environments, but at what cost? As the recent Teleperformance incident demonstrates, there are reasons to be concerned.

Paul Black

Paul Black

Aug 23, 2021 · 3 min read

Why is employee surveillance on the rise?

What happened with Teleperformance?

Teleperformance, the French customer-care and technical support company, has been accused of intrusive monitoring of their home working staff and their household members. The staff members who refuse to adhere to such policies were unfairly treated and in some cases even sacked.

The company also implemented such a policy quite selectively – it didn’t target its UK staff, but mostly focused on countries such as Albania or Columbia. It used remote video cameras to check what their employees were doing during their work time. Teleperformance also asked for their medical records and biometric details.

The job contracts stated that the photos and videos of staff members and their family members could be allowed to circulate freely within the company.

The rise of employee surveillance

With a significant shift towards working from home, the companies have also come up with new methods of monitoring, some of them invading employees' privacy in quite harsh ways. This trend has especially affected the call center and remote customer support industry, where employees are supposed to constantly perform and reach certain targets.

A study conducted by Top10VPN website revealed that the demand for employee surveillance software increased by 58% in 2020 compared to the pre-pandemic situation. Also, the volume of the search phrase “employee monitoring software” has increased by 56% since March 2020.

The most popular monitoring tools are Hubstaff, Time Doctor and FlexiSPY. Their sales have increased significantly, and many of these companies actively encourage long-term use through subscription discounts, suggesting that their deployment might continue after the pandemic. By using this software employers can:

  • monitor employee’s on-screen activities;
  • perform keystroke logging. This allows employers to track every mouse click and keyboard interaction, potentially capturing passwords and private conversations;
  • monitor and filter your internet connection. For example, they can disable access to certain websites or online content remotely;
  • track you location;
  • access your webcam and/or record your audio;
  • monitor instant messaging conversations. Sometimes, they can even penetrate encrypted platforms;
  • remotely take over and control your device.

Companies can also initiate user action alerts notifying employers about undesirable behaviour with such software. Then they can follow-up by starting monitoring you or even intervene to stop it. Sometimes visiting some non-work related website can be treated as such a behaviour. By getting such an alert an employer can disable such a website or cut down a “distracting” conversation with a colleague.

So employee monitoring software turns your device into a surveillance tool. Worse still, it intrudes into your most personal and vulnerable space — your home. Working remotely and dealing with the pandemic is already a stressful experience; this overbearing attitude of employer’s can make it worse.

Other notable monitoring cases

While monitoring remote workers in their homes has become commonplace during lockdown, there are many other notable instances of invasive employee surveillance.

Amazon

Amazon recently installed AI-powered cameras to their delivery vans, which can track a driver’s location, movement, and speed, and assess their mood by capturing facial expressions. Drivers were told to comply with the new requirements or leave their jobs.

H&M

In 2020, Germany's data regulator punished the fashion company with a €35 million fine for violating the privacy of their employees. Staff of their Nuremberg operations center breached GDPR by extracting and keeping extensive data on their employees' private lives. The data included health issues, family details, and religious beliefs.

Walmart

Walmart created a system which allowed employers to listen in on their workers and customers. They can also evaluate performance metrics by recording sounds like beeping or rustling bags. However, the system hasn’t been implemented yet.

Alternative solutions

Many companies claim to use surveillance software to improve remote employee security. This may be a fair argument in many cases, but it's clear that some companies stray beyond the reasonable limits of this justification. Underlining the weaknesses in the security argument is the fact that there are other ways to protect a company's data that don't involve privacy-infringing practices.

Foremost among these alternative security solutions is the VPN, or virtual private network. This encryption tool can keep employee devices protected, prevent data breaches, and enhance company-wide security.

NordLayer is a B2B VPN service which can safeguard your employees' data. You can also get a standard NordVPN account, protecting up to six devices with top-level encryption.

Online security starts with a click.

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