Is Employee Surveillance the Future of Remote Work?
Amazon seems to think so.
As the workplace remains remote-first post-pandemic for a large portion of the workforce, employee surveillance is on the rise.
According to recent news reports, Amazon is considering rolling out keyboard-stroke monitoring for its customer-service reps.
A keyboard stroke is a single press of a key on a keyboard. That means that Amazon will be tracking every key that is pressed on an employee’s computer - for work reasons or otherwise.
Why is Amazon Doing This?
According to Threatpost, data theft, insider threats, and imposters accessing customer data have gotten bad at Amazon.
An internal memo in the company says that outsourced employees working from home in countries like India and the Philippines, where most of these security incidents occur, has created a “high data-exfiltration risk”.
The tech giant is now considering enlisting the services of a company called BehavioSec, which uses the aggregate data of a user’s mouse clicks and keystrokes to develop a profile of their typical behavior. Once that baseline of typical behavior is established, the BehavioSec tool will identify when someone’s activity is unusual.
While I understand Amazon's security concerns and I am concerned about the precedent the company is about to set. There must be better solutions to mitigating these risks than engaging in complete employee surveillance, especially as this is a slippery slope that other companies would follow.
Why Employee Surveillance is a Slippery Slope
Imagine a scenario where you are working from home, and your employer can keep track of absolutely everything you do. Not so nice is it?
In fact, professor Ifeoma Ajunwa, teaching labor and employment law at Cornell University, says:
“Although the employer has a legal interest in monitoring employees that are working remotely, excessive surveillance can violate the privacy of workers and can also be counterproductive, as the stress from surveillance can reduce productivity.”
Further, continuous surveillance of employees can have a negative effect on their mental health by increasing their levels of anxiety, because hey … who wants to be watched over and micromanaged all the time?
For Amazon, this is not the first time they are coming under heat for employee surveillance. The company reportedly began testing AI-equipped cameras in vehicles and an app called ‘Mentor’ to help improve driver safety. However, many delivery partners described the app as invasive and raised concerns that bugs within the app can, at times, lead to unfair disciplinary action from their managers.
Things That Amazon Hasn’t Considered
Life happens. Things and situations come up that may not be in the control of an employee. Or may even change how an employee behaves.
Some remote workers may be sharing their devices with their family members. Someone may be having an off day or be sick and type slower than usual. Conversely, someone may be having a deadline to beat and begin typing faster than usual. What would happen in such a scenario? Will an employee go under heat for an anomaly in their “normal behavioral pattern?”
My concern remains. If Amazon decides to go ahead with high-tech employee surveillance, it will likely encourage other companies to follow suit.
After all, if Amazone does it, why not do it too?
Personally, if a client would want to surveil me during my work, I would tell them to go fuck themselves. I hope if your employer or client(s) asks you, you are in a position to say the same.