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Workplace Surveillance Becoming More Common 195

An anonymous reader writes For better or worse, surveillance technology is becoming more common in the workplace. These tools are being used to measure and monitor employees, with the promise changing how people work. "Through these new means, companies have found, for example, that workers are more productive if they have more social interaction. So a bank's call center introduced a shared 15-minute coffee break, and a pharmaceutical company replaced coffee makers used by a few marketing workers with a larger cafe area. The result? Increased sales and less turnover." Of course, this kind of monitoring raises privacy concerns. "Whether this kind of monitoring is effective or not, it's a concern," said Lee Tien, a senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.
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Workplace Surveillance Becoming More Common

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  • More common? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:05PM (#47295203)
    I worked for a tech support line in the mid '90s. All breaks were recorded, timed, and provided to managers on a daily basis. At a fortune 100 company in the late '90s, they had static IPS and a proxy with lots of reports. They knew who was on what how many times and when. Daily, weekly, and monthly reports.

    I had a written order to install a keylogger on an employee's computer in 1999. He was suspected of using company property to commit crimes. I recorded a crime, and passed it back to the management who ordered the tap. He was fired. No charges were laid.

    There is no "new" surveilance. Though it may be becoming more common, it certainly isn't new. At all.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:08PM (#47295213)

    Watching someone shoot themselves in the foot is far less amusing when said foot is on your neck.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:09PM (#47295221)

    Oh look. Another statist who alleges, completely without irony, that what we need to protect us is more government. As if the government is the entity which will protect us from excessive or illegal surveillance.

    Seriously now, have you been under a rock for the past... ~13 years now? Did you miss the headline on Slashdot this very weekend about how the government is perjuring itself and encouraging state and local government entities to engage in massive surveillance?

    I'll take my chances regarding employer surveillance policies, thankyouverymuch. At least my employers and clients don't allege they have the authority to monitor every aspect of my life, unlike this unconstitutional government.

    I'll tell you what: you get the government to give up its panopticon surveillance state and then we will talk about passing laws so the government can protect me from being spied upon. Go ahead. I'll wait.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:12PM (#47295237)

    When I worked in a call center doing outsourced Comcast internet support years ago they actually did this to employees they suspected were "misusing" their computer access. It wasn't really effective, since the cursor would slow to a crawl when they were viewing your screen, making it very obvious.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:33PM (#47295309)

    I was the VP of IT for a twenty-plus year old SaaS firm with about 200 employees. I was there for three weeks when one of the interns came in and told me they forgot to install "a security update" for my new company issued laptop. He said it would force my laptop to reboot. I was in the middle of going getting acclimated to the IT budget so I said I'd install it myself later. He agreed. Later that day I inserted the flash drive and saw one binary. I right-clicked and saw the digital signature belonged to Spector 360. Red flags! Red flags!

    I spoke to the VP of IS and his jaw hit the floor. We ran Wireshark on his PC and sure enough, it was constantly communicating massive amounts of encrypted data to an internal server that had no hostname. We looked through the employee handbook and there was no mention of monitoring of employee internet use. For a moment, we thought our intern was working with a competitor. But, before we went crazy with that, our next step would be to talk with my predecessor who had stayed with the company to head up a new division. He immediately clammed up and told us we needed to talk to the CEO about it. He refused to talk any further.

    We went to the CEO and calmly asked about the program and what was being collected. Apparently, he had the previous VP of IT and the intern installing this software on every PC and laptop and that it was configured to capture everything: keystrokes, screen wipes, browsing history, IM history, etc. I was appalled and I knew my counterpart from IS was as well. Nevertheless, we warned him that controls needed to be in place to determine who has access to this information, under what circumstances the access is granted, etc. We emphasized the risk he was putting the company in. We were very professional and didn't even touch the creepy aspect. He said we'd all have a meeting about it in the morning. He scheduled it for 8am with me, the IS guy, the COO, company counsel, and the company president.

    At 4:45PM, about an hour after we received the meeting invite, both me and the VP of IS were rounded up, taken to the CEO's office, and promptly terminated.

  • by cat_jesus ( 525334 ) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:41PM (#47295333)
    I was fired because I would write to my wife about the absolutely stupid things my boss and "peers" would say and do. It turns out my boss, who was completely non technical but running an IT department, was reading our email. My former boss has surrounded himself with idiotic sycophants and apparently they've had to hire 3 consultants to do the job I was doing.

    He actually did me a favor. I hated working in that department, one of my peers was the owner's son and my boss was constantly sucking up to junior even though junior was my "peer". Junior is non technical too. That particular clique of management has managed to drive all the technical managers out and now they have a bunch of incompetent posers who have earned the distrust and loathing of all the people under them. They can't even make decisions on their own, they have to consult Gartner or other consultants.

    I'd name names but they paid me a shit ton of money to never out them. It ended up working out well for me though. I'm making much more money and working with very smart and competent people. Sometimes more surveillance just speeds up the dysfunction that is already present in an organization.
  • its a lie (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:41PM (#47295335)

    "Through these new means, companies have found, for example, that workers are more productive if they have more social interaction."

    lie, lie, lie. this is referring to the so-called open-office scheme, where they remove your privacy and sound barriers, sometimes even remove your personal desk and you are now 'fully interchangable cogs' to the company.

    this has been proven to be wrong, but it keeps getting trotted out, as if repeating it over and over again will make us believe it.

    CEO and bean-counter bullshit. see it for what it is.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:50PM (#47295367)

    At one school I frequent there is a strict policy on inappropriate content. One professor accidentally visited a pornographic website. It was immediately logged and reported via automated email. Within a short time he was called to schedule a meeting. The logs reported that the session that connected to the website was open for four seconds. I know this because the log was printed and hung up for all to see as a warning. Under the zero-tolerance rules he got the boot. Some places actually are that totalitarian and the woman that called you immediately apologizing probably thought she was under such a system.

  • by siemmer ( 3709637 ) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @09:57PM (#47295579)
    I actually work for a company that sells a SIEM tool that lends itself very nicely to monitoring of insiders. (read: employee surveillance) While most usecases are around PCI-DSS, HIPAA, and that sort of thing, invariably there are "four eyes" usecases as well. These usecases tend to bridge into the way an employee compares to their fellow employees, particularly those in the same business unit / group / job function. This tends to uncover things like people in x group come into work at 9:01a, Bill, a member of x group, comes in at 9:33a most days. Bill also tends to browse the internet on y-type sites whereas people in x group are usually active on z-type sites. Bill spends b-time with the average customer call, and takes c calls per day. Whereas x-group employees typically take 10minutes less than b-time for the average customer call, and take c+5 calls per day. SIEM tools are built to bring in most any type of data, and lots of it. Built-in correlation is normally security-centric, but is easily adapted for most anything. For example, Bill is marked as being on a business trip to Birmingham, AL but his VPN connection is coming from the FL keys *flag*. Or, more ominous, Bill said he was out at lunch with clients for an hour, but the geolocation-software installed into his phone says he was located around a car dealership, and was there for 3 hours.
  • by Scot Seese ( 137975 ) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @11:10PM (#47295805)

    Dear Corporate America,

    Your employees will begin to resent your "15 minute department coffee breaks" as soon as they learn they were born from spying on work habits, or pulled out of the latest fad HR / Management best seller. This ranks up there with silly morale boosters like "crazy Hawaiian shirt Fridays" for a developer team that is crushing 60 hour weeks and just wants to go home.

    Please accept a few thoughts on true lasting employee and corporate culture improvements:

    1, end the "Corporate Daycare" mentality. Arriving at 8:05 isn't the end of the world, particularly if that employee is conscientious about staying until 5:10 to compensate. Actually, have you heard of "Flex Time" , at all? Adult professionals shouldn't be shamed for making coffee at 3:30 requiring they leave their desk for 20 minutes.

    2, Realize that company-provided smartphones are essentially the same as taking your manager home with you, and stop fucking sending emails after 5pm unless it's an emergency. Stop sending meeting invites at 9pm for 9 AM meetings with the expectation that employees will see it, reply immediately and be present the next morning. Let's just tie this back to "treat people like adult professionals, the way you would like to be treated."

    3, Your company suffers failure of imagination and naked greed. Make your employees participants in your companies' success. Ask them for product improvements, new product ideas, and give them more than a plaque or a parking space for coming through with groundbreaking ideas. Give them bonuses. Uncomfortably large bonuses. Watch in amazement as suddenly your employees are transformed from the cave-dwelling Morlocks from HG Wells "The Time Machine" to highly motivated people who will make the company significantly more money.

    4, Value for Value. Pay people what they are worth. Treat them with respect. They will work hard for you.

    5, There are artists - people who can start with a blank canvas and create a photorealistic painting from their minds' eye. There are people who can't do that, but can take a blank canvas, pencil a grid on it, and methodically reproduce the photorealistic painting with 95% accuracy. This is the difference between Richard Branson and every asshole with an MBA. Far more often than not, the largest source of employees' discontent stems from bad management. Leading and motivating people is a preternatural talent, and the people with that gift are worth sourcing and retaining at all costs. All star leadership will cut your employee churn, boost your productivity, and earn your company more money.

    6, Stack Ranking, Six Sigma, when will you people realize that human beings are psychologically complicated animals and applying scientific optimization models originally designed to optimize efficiency in industrial manufacturing environments has little or no value when applied to the talking meat populating your cubicles.

    Six Sigma is spectacularly effective at destroying true innovation, creativity and blue-sky thinking, and has no place outside of the factory. I'm glad everyone who attended a training seminar at the airport Hilton immediately ads "Six Sigma Level 3 Grand Wizard" in their Outlook signature to quickly identify those persons I never, ever wish to have a meaningful conversation about new product with, as part of the Six Sigma training is to destroy the part of the brain responsible for creative thinking by way of directed electrical current applied using a special helmet. Other electrodes in the helmet stimulate the part of the brain making you feel incredibly enthusiastic about applying Six Sigma to everything you imagine to be possible.

    Stack Ranking is essentially the same cruel process used by 10 year olds choosing teams for kickball at recess, and often with the same level of consideration. The guy answering his company Outlook emails until 10:30 every night, who also pipes up frequently in meetings - albeit absent any meaningful contributions in either - color me surprised if that guy doesn't do well in the soul crushing quarterly Stack Rank.

    Corporate America is soulless.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @11:13PM (#47295817)
    doesnt hurt when they think that you do, though.
    i have a small red LED light on my desk, when people ask what it is i tell them it illuminates when a blocked program has been executed, or someone visits a site blocked by the proxy to alert me to immediately check the logs. of course the light does nothing, but the illusion keeps a lot of people from creating unnecessary work for me
  • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:13AM (#47296121)
    A lot of Japanese companies are fighting back against the overwork culture these days. It is usual to see all the lights turned out in the office over the lunch hour to discourage working through lunch, and many companies have no-overtime days where the office is closed at 6pm (I even met one guy a couple of weeks ago who said his company has started doing this every day of the week).
  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:27PM (#47298561)

    Seriously - they needed surveillance to figure out that workers were happier and more productive when they had some shared sense of purpose?

    What next - needing surveillance to figure out people are bothered by random loud buzzing noises?

    No, they just used that as their excuse. They are surveilling the employees to keep them in line. If every word you speak in the break room is recorded, it can help them weed out the undesirables. So eventually, people will just quit talking. Or maybe confine it to talking about th weather.

    Another way of putting it is "We tried these shock collars on the employees, and they just loved them. The pretty collars made the employees so happy, they all worked harder."

    A bit strained of a comparison perhaps, but the hypothetical shock collars, just like the surveillance cameras have a completely different purpose than the one being touted.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito