The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our economy, sending tens of millions of Americans to the unemployment line. Many of us fortunate enough to have jobs are being subjected to frightening new technology — including thermal imaging and always-on webcams — that allows our employers to track our every move. That’s not right. Sign the petition demanding that employers stop spying on workers.
Brick-and-mortar stores across the United States have been forced to close their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of the deadly virus. Other businesses have been able to adapt to the pandemic by moving essential operations online and enabling employees to work remotely. But working remotely comes with a risk, as many companies are adopting invasive new surveillance programs to pry into the personal lives of their employees, and put us all at risk of human rights abuses.
Sneek provides companies with software that takes pictures of employees every few minutes so their managers can see whether or not they are in front of their computer throughout the day. Uber is using similar software to monitor its drivers.
Companies like Axos Financial, Inc. record every website their employees visit and log every keystroke their employees make while working remotely.
InterGuard employee monitoring software can notify employers when their employees print out their resumes or take other actions that suggest they might be leaving their current employer.
Amazon has reportedly purchased thermal cameras to monitor the temperature of employees and identify those suffering from symptoms of COVID-19. But those cameras come from a Chinese company that has been blacklisted from doing business with American firms due to participation in racially-motivated human rights violations. Meanwhile, essential workers at Amazon’s warehouses are forced to work long hours without masks or other protective equipment.
Companies certainly have a right to expect their employees to perform their duties. Yet common sense provides just as much insight into employee activity as any digital spying tools. Do workers attend video chat meetings as expected? Do workers respond to emails quickly? Do workers deliver high-quality results ahead of deadlines? Managers who can’t answer these questions without always-on cameras or keystroke logging software do not add any value to their organizations.
All employees must take bathroom breaks, stretch out, prepare meals, and take occasional personal time throughout the workday. Some of us may have to attend to children who are home from school, or let a pet outside. That’s no big deal as long as we get our work done. But surveillance programs like Sneek, InterGuard, and ActivTrak allow our employers to keep detailed records of our private behavior. That type of information can be exploited in many different ways, and we can’t be sure that employers will keep this data secure, or that they will use this data fairly.
Amazon warehouse workers have reportedly skipped bathroom breaks in order to meet productivity goals and avoid being punished, leading to (predictably) disturbing behavior. The same thing might happen to any of us if our employers have our bathroom behavior recorded in a spreadsheet somewhere.
Amazon has been publicly accused of firing workers for speaking out and organizing against health and safety issues during the pandemic. Axos Financial, Inc., whose spokesperson declined to comment when asked whether the CEO of the company was subjected to the same employee monitoring program as the rank-and-file workers. Workplace surveillance isn't about productivity or accountability; it's just one more way for those who hold positions of power to exert control over those who don’t.
Beyond the threat to our privacy and the danger to our freedom that these awful policies present, it’s creepy for our bosses to have the ability to turn on our webcams and see what’s happening in our homes at all times. That access into our personal lives is going to be exploited, plain and simple. More surveillance in the workplace will only exacerbate existing forms of discrimination and injustice in our society. But this dystopian future is not inevitable –– if we speak out now and tell employers that we refuse to accept this.