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Big Brother In the Home Office 298

hessian writes with this excerpt from the New York Times' "Bits" column: "Tens of thousands of programmers, writers, accountants and other workers labor at home doing contract work for companies like Google, Hewlett-Packard and NBC. The computers they use contain software that takes snapshots of what they are doing six times an hour. The snooping occurs randomly, making it impossible for the computer user to game the system. It is probably more invasive than what happens to those working in offices, where scooting through Facebook entries, shopping on Cyber Monday, and peeping at N.S.F.W. ('Not Safe for Work') Web sites on corporate computers is both normal and rarely observed by managers."
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Big Brother In the Home Office

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  • Webcams too (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) <> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:08PM (#38305450) Homepage Journal

    I know at least one freelancing website that also allows employers to require a feed of the contractor's webcam.

  • Two computers? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:13PM (#38305534)

    Isn't the fatal flaw in their product the fact that a home worker might actually have *two* computers? While he moves the mouse around on the work computer and looks like he's reading a technical manual, on his other computer he's surfing porn and building a website for his company's competitor?

    Or he could just run the work computer as a virtual machine and surf porn on the host instance.

    And there's the security risk - what if someone hacks the ODesk interface, so the screenshots from your home worker entering medical data get published to the web, resulting in a big HIPAA violation fine (or they store those screenshots on an offshore server, and extort you into paying them to not publish them).

    Aren't there better ways to measure home worker productivity without introducing a large potential security hole with a product that is easily circumvented? Maybe managers should actually *manage* instead of relying on technology to do it for them?

  • Re:Intolerable! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:18PM (#38305602)
    They're voluntarily exchanging a cube for a long leash. I don't see it as unreasonable, but rather a fair trade. Flexibility to work where and possibly when they want. In exchange they trade their physically present human supervisor for an automated screen-capture software. This isn't a web cam in the bathroom type intrusion, merely an alternate form of the same supervision they'd receive if they were physically present at the office.
  • by ad454 ( 325846 ) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:26PM (#38305700) Journal

    Here is a trick that I used. I received a company issued Dell laptop with Windows. I installed converted it into a VM (Virtual Machine) image with VMware converter tool, and then installed that VM on my Mac.

    Whenever I need to do corporate stuff I do it in the VM, and all of the personal stuff I do on my Mac host machine. (This trick works for Linux hosts as well.)

    Any spyware on my VM does not obtain any information about my personal activity in the host OS.

  • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:41PM (#38305932) Homepage

    If people get their job done and are productive, does it really matter?

    I've always hated the idea of micromanaging workers. It should be about getting the job done. If the job isn't done? Discipline/fire the employee. If the job is done, great! Anything else shouldn't matter.

  • Re:Webcams too (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:52PM (#38306068)

    I'd still get paid chief; if I'm smart enough to be writing code, I'm smart enough to hook into the webcam driver and provide my own feed (boring coder loop for the win!).

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @03:10PM (#38306300) Journal
    Ya-Ha-Ha Ho Ho Ho
    Shipped your job to Mexico
    But we got plans for all of you to re-train

    Pit the whole world against each other
    For who will work for the lowest wage
    The rest of you can die
    As epidemics rage

    Worked hard all your life
    Now you must go on line
    And stare all day
    At a little plastic screen

    Electronic plantation
    Electronic plantation

    Same old job
    Now you're just a temp
    Less pay, no benefits
    No raise, no vacation
    Or sick leave days

    Chain the slaves to the oars
    Faster, faster, row some more!
    In carpel tunnel caverns
    Til you break

    We monitor you all
    Every time you leave your chair
    Or talk on the phone
    One minute overtime
    At the toilet
    And you're fired

    Electronic plantation
    Electronic plantation

    Only use we've left for you
    Is burn you at both ends
    Locked in the research triangle
    Shirtwaist fire's flames
    Lot's of people need your job
    And you can be replaced


    Unemployed and overqualified
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Thursday December 08, 2011 @03:16PM (#38306358) Journal

    Use another PC for private stuff!

    It's not just about making sure you're doing nothing private, but also to make sure you didn't take a half-hour to have a cup of coffee or take your hand off your keyboard to think about the best way to solve a problem.

    Is it finally sinking in that corporations really don't care about your well-being, or even about what's best for the company, only profits are important? And if achieving another .2% of profits this quarter requires you to have a 50% worse quality of life, they're going to throw you under the bus every time.

    Problem is, there is absolutely no "free market" solution to this. There is no "free market" solution to your declining real income and your diminishing quality of life. They are thrilled with high unemployment because that means the workers are too scared to do anything but bow their heads and take it.

    Today I read an article in Bloomberg about how so many working and middle class people aren't doing quite as badly as we thought because they're taking second jobs for cash and more mothers and kids are working to pick up a little extra cash so they can survive month to month. And the article said that this was all a good thing. No mention of the corrosive social effect of people with two full-time jobs sleeping a lot less, or more kids not having any parents at home until late into the evening. No mention of the fact that the second jobs tend to be at or below the minimum wage. No mention of health care costs increasing because of additional stress.

    There was actually a quote about how working 16 hour days for $8 bucks and hour is just as good as working 8 hours a day for $16/hr. They pointed out that the diminishing place of organized labor has made these wonderful "productivity innovations" possible.

    Sometimes I have trouble believing how quickly we went from being a nation where people commonly believed that their children would have better lives to a nation where there is certainty that our children will have worse lives. In my lifetime we have gone from a country where the working and middle classes believed that if they just worked hard and took care of their families that they would have a few good years of retirement to enjoy, to a country where everybody knows that the 401k is only going to hold us for a year or two, and then...well then we just don't know (and that's if you could afford to put away money for that 401k). When all those 401k babies start to retire and they realize there's no where near enough money to live there is going to be social displacement like we've never seen.

    We have become a feudal oligarchy where it's considered a great thing that a skilled worker - a professional - can be monitored every ten minutes to make sure they don't get up to go to the bathroom or change their toddler's diaper. This is "thinking outside the box". These are "innovative management tools".

    By the way, when Hewlett Packard (one of the companies using this 10 minute monitoring system) fired their former CEO Leo Apotheker for not really doing that great of a job, they made sure his transition was eased by $7 million cash and $18 million in stock. This is the CEO that they fired while telling their workers that they all have to tighten their belts. Oh, and they structured the "firing" so that Mr Apotheker could file for unemployment.

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990