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Many Employers Are Using Tools To Monitor Their Staff's Web-browsing Patterns, Keystrokes, Social Media Posts (theguardian.com) 187

Olivia Solon, reporting for The Guardian: How can an employer make sure its remote workers aren't slacking off? In the case of talent management company Crossover, the answer is to take photos of them every 10 minutes through their webcam. The pictures are taken by Crossover's productivity tool, WorkSmart, and combine with screenshots of their workstations along with other data -- including app use and keystrokes -- to come up with a "focus score" and an "intensity score" that can be used to assess the value of freelancers. Today's workplace surveillance software is a digital panopticon that began with email and phone monitoring but now includes keeping track of web-browsing patterns, text messages, screenshots, keystrokes, social media posts, private messaging apps like WhatsApp and even face-to-face interactions with co-workers. Crossover's Sanjeev Patni insists that workers get over the initial self-consciousness after a few days and accept the need for such monitoring as they do CCTV in shopping malls.
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Many Employers Are Using Tools To Monitor Their Staff's Web-browsing Patterns, Keystrokes, Social Media Posts

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  • Well duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plopez ( 54068 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @09:45AM (#55505617) Journal

    Companies tend to be fascist institutions. You follow the leader, obey the hierarchy, and do what you are told. You have no input into how things work and are punished for deviating.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Also usually illegal in the EU. If this really is as common as TFA thinks then it might be the next big compensation scandal.

      • What? No. They will just have you sign some contract saying you agree to the terms or they won't hire you/you won't be employed any longer.
        • Re:Well duh. (Score:4, Informative)

          by TimothyHollins ( 4720957 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @11:44AM (#55506533)

          That only works in the US. In the EU, strange as it may seem, the law is the law. You cannot sign away your rights (because in the EU your rights are your rights), nor can you give anyone permission to do something which is illegal. Because, and I'm surprised I need to say this again, in the EU anything illegal is in fact illegal.

          With this in mind, guess why there aren't any "forced arbitration" clauses in European EULAs.

        • by realxmp ( 518717 )
          In the UK this would come under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Human Rights Act. RIPA is a criminal act and there are criminal sanctions for violating it, not something you can waive with a civil contract. Governments like to keep surveillance powers to themselves, there is an exception so you can monitor network traffic to debug network issues or check someone's mailbox for business related email (say whilst they're out of the office) but routine snooping like this would not fly under a
      • Re:Well duh. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by phayes ( 202222 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @10:26AM (#55505929) Homepage

        NOT Illegal. Companies just need to get signed authorisation that there is a company policy for this kind of stuff and make sure that all employees sign it. Don't want to sign it? Access to the company networks is refused. Need network access to do your job? Sign the damn paper.

        There are a few off-limits categories though: Banking & Health among them that must be whitelisted to avoid being swept into the monitoring.

        • Re:Well duh. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @10:42AM (#55506053) Homepage Journal

          In the EU you can't be forced to sign away your basic rights like that. Giving up basic rights to keep your job is not considered a choice anyone should have to make.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Maritz ( 1829006 )
            People more accustomed to the american indentured servitude model are always confused by the idea that employees in europe are not utterly powerless like they are.
          • by phayes ( 202222 )

            In the E.U. Companies can and do require that their employees sign usage charters in order to access company networks. I know because I've deployed firewalls and network filtering equipment to quite a few of them and implemented the filtering policies.

            Don't want to believe me? Try working for Siemens, Airbus, Renault, Vodaphone, Daimler, Agip, Total, Areva, etc. Don't want to sign the charter? Fine, don't, but your access to corporate networks is denied.

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              Yes, you can be asked to agree to conduct yourself a certain way on the network, but unless they have a really good reason to target you specifically they can't just start keylogging your computer. This has been established in court.

              • by phayes ( 202222 )

                Rereading TFA I see that keystrokes were explicitly mentioned which I hadn't caught the first read. I concur that they are indeed illegal in the E.U. but the use of social media & web browsing patterns depends on just how it is implemented.

            • by torkus ( 1133985 )

              Internet Content Filtering is not, at all, the same thing as key logging/monitoring social media posts, etc.

              As someone who ALSO works in a heavily regulated, international company with several offices in the EU, I can absolutely say that laws regarding data privacy apply and cannot be signed away in virtually any case. We have the typical american "we will watch/read/etc. anything, anytime, for any (or no) reason whatsoever" for our US staff but EU staff are exempted from the whole thing. Heck, I remember

        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          There are a few off-limits categories though: ....

          Monitoring must avoid disseminating ANY personal information or data to avoid putting the company at risk.

          If you want to monitor their app use and what they're doing fine --- logging individual keystrokes and capturing or sending a user's Amazon or Gmail password, credit card number, or SSN is Not OK; it's doubly not OK for HR keylogger history to figure out their password and access the employee's outside services or personal accounts to "Investigate

          • by torkus ( 1133985 )

            With GDPR, most things are off-limits:

            What constitutes personal data?
            Any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’, that can be used to directly or indirectly identify the person. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer IP address.
            Source: http://www.eugdpr.org/gdpr-faq... [eugdpr.org]

        • Don't want to sign it? Access to the company networks is refused. Need network access to do your job? Hire damn shadow IT.

          ftfy.

    • Companies tend to be fascist institutions. You follow the leader, obey the hierarchy, and do what you are told. You have no input into how things work and are punished for deviating.

      This kind of surveillance should be illegal across the board. It may be illegal in some states and companies would expose themselves to rather high dollar law suits.

  • Rubbish (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @09:49AM (#55505655)

    None of this is necessary. What's necessary is to set goals and then assess whether the goals are being achieved. If workers are on the clock, then you probably don't want them billing you if they're doing unrelated tasks. However, a good manager should have some idea how long tasks ought to take and be able to determine if the workers aren't productive. The surveillance is completely unnecessary. However, they are right about one thing. Just like Big Brother players, you tend to forget the surveillance is there after a few days.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by olsmeister ( 1488789 )
      Ahhh, spotted the flaw in your logic immediately. You said 'good manager'. A good manager wouldn't use something like this.
    • by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @10:20AM (#55505875) Journal

      yeah but "good managers" cost even more than good workers. this way, you can save that money by hiring shitty managers to just keep an eye on the temps' Voight-Kampff retinal-engagement score and pass the savings on to the customers^W shareholders. it's a no-brainer, really.

      • I was a terrible manager but I quickly learned who was productive and who was not.

        When you sit there at your desk doing nothing, you think you are getting away with something, but you are not.

        • uh, yeah, and now there's a robot doing your job. what's your point exactly?

        • When you sit there at your desk doing nothing, you think you are getting away with something, but you are not.

          aka The manager? /joke

    • You are asking the manager to do more work. That is, in most cases, a non-starter.

      Just to be clear, I agree with you about what *should* happen.

    • Re:Rubbish (Score:4, Insightful)

      by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @10:27AM (#55505949) Homepage Journal

      A panopticon approach penalizes some of the best workers.
      Those who can do more in less time get penalized for "goofing off" when taking the breaks which is what makes them capable of doing more and better work in the first place. While someone who works slower but all the time is seen as more productive, even if doing less, or not getting a "mind clear" between tasks.
      Employers need to realize that they don't get to dictate every aspect of a person's life while at work - they're not slaves. They buy their work. If two people do the same work by the same company deadline, they deserve the same pay. If one finishes early and then goofs off, or can multitask and do his job just as well or better while at the same time reading news, that doesn't hurt the company.
      If the company wants more work because the employee appears to have spare time, they need to negotiate that with a proportionally higher pay compared to other, slower workers. Not just crack the whip, or the best workers will leave and you end up with the worst.

       

    • However, a good manager should have some idea how long tasks ought to take and be able to determine if the workers aren't productive.

      Question for 100: What's easier for the average manager? To actually have a clue what the people working under him are doing or having IT install software that takes pics of them every 10 seconds?

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      If workers are on the clock, then you probably don't want them billing you if they're doing unrelated tasks.

      Workers who gain skills over time on the workplace or on the job MIGHT begin complete equal tasks faster or more quickly, for example they might finish the same task in HALF the amount of time they would have taken before, or one of their peers would take,
      because they are gaining in skills, abilities, and familiarity to the job, or learned some special shortcuts that work unique to them (E.g. C

  • by nickjj ( 4795255 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @09:52AM (#55505665)

    A lot of freelance platforms have been doing this for years but it's not a reasonable solution.

    You can't measure development productivity based on trackable "focus" and "intensity" scores because a lot of that happens inside of your brain.

    I might decide to just stop what I'm doing and do 50 push ups while thinking about a problem, and then afterwards spend 10 minutes doing nothing from a camera's POV. In my mind, I'm churning through really complex data models and trying to make sense of it all which is absolutely focusing on the work at hand.

    • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @10:00AM (#55505717)

      I still solve a lot of problems off the clock, usually while on a drive when (other than attention required for driving) my mind can wander. I can spend hours at my desk, extremely focused, but go around in circles... and then during a trip to a satellite office the answer will come to me.

      Find a way to measure that!

      Much like wait and call timers for telemarketing firms (and shitty customer service cube farms), these systems are not for good companies... they're for shitty companies paying shitty wages for basic monkey work, and they want to make sure the monkeys are mashing keys.

    • Yes, there is the phenomenon of the "shower thought". I think there's a scientific term for it, but I don't remember what it is and couldn't find it with a quick google. The basic phenomenon is this: When you're intensely focused on a problem, you can't figure out a solution. Then you take a break, go for a walk, take a shower, and occupy yourself with something mundane. Suddenly, a solution comes to you.

      Supposedly there's some science behind it. Focusing intensely on something can actually prevent yo

      • by mishehu ( 712452 )

        Agent J: World class serial killer out there and we're having pie
        Young Agent K: What you do with your spare time stretch?
        Agent J: Arrrgh....
        Young Agent K: You see I sense you not embracing the concept here. Pie don't work unless you let it
        Agent J: I'm gonna, I'm gonna let it.
        Young Agent K: When you said we don't talk, right? Go ahead ask me any question, anything you want just as long as it doesn't have to do with the case. Just let her rip.
        Agent J: What's up with you and O?
        Young Agent K: Me and O?
        A

    • I've solved a lot of problems while taking a crap. Hey, company, are you really sure you want to record me?

    • I might decide to just stop what I'm doing and do 50 push ups while thinking about a problem, and then afterwards spend 10 minutes doing nothing from a camera's POV. In my mind, I'm churning through really complex data models and trying to make sense of it all which is absolutely focusing on the work at hand.

      Not that long back, I'd just go outside for a smoke, and ponder things...and by the time I'd finish, I'd have a solution to try as I came back indoors.

      Man...wish there was a way to smoke that didn't k

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      A lot of freelance platforms have been doing this for years but it's not a reasonable solution. You can't measure development productivity based on trackable "focus" and "intensity" scores because a lot of that happens inside of your brain.

      They don't really think you measure progress by how much you're banging on the keyboard either. They just want to know when you're shirking or goofing off while on the clock. Do a little quid pro quo, if you're thinking about work while away from your desk, think about other things while you're at your desk.

    • I am now retired, but the following happened many times...

      I smoke (now e-cigs with my own juice, but it works the same). I am focusing on the development task at hand. I hit something that requires some thought - I need a solution to some problem. I go out for a smoke with the explicit intention of spending the time thinking about the problem. But I see a hawk hunting mice, or ravens screwing around, or the shape of the clouds... and, once again, I have failed to think about the problem while I was ou

  • Just because something is easy to count doesn't mean it should be your primary metric.

    This may be metric for data entry jobs but it's increasingly useless the further up the food chain you are.

    Reviewing code may involve the mousewheel and no keystrokes
    Reading slowly for comprehension and making sure we're not making errors is also vital.
    Time to assimilate and digest information is also work. No, really.

    There are days where I'm hammering the keyboard and there are days when I'm plotting and thinking.

  • If the summary is accurate, these people have lost their mind. My worst job was a call center position where you actually had to raise your hand for a restroom break. To compound the issue, you logged off the soft phone for the break and the whole process was timed. You were given 10 minutes total for an entire shift, for a set of restroom breaks. This bs reminds me of that behavior, and I share the store to remind people why they should leave abusive positions. Education is power, and this wasn't the
    • by I75BJC ( 4590021 )
      This is a tactic used on young people from my experience. I told them that I would manage my own bathroom breaks and get my job completed. Maybe the supervisors were scared the young people would go to the bathroom during a peak time of the shift, or maybe trying to teach the young people to better manage their bodies, or maybe something else. I told them that it wasn't legal and went to the bathroom when it was needed and convenient. Young people fall for all kinds of bovine scat. After years of experien
      • The flip side of bathroom timers is my friend Julian. He always craps at work, holds it on the drive in, everyday.

        Get a few beers into him, and he will start lecturing anybody around him: 'Always crap at work, last year I got paid $15k for shitting.'

  • Put some tape over the webcam. Or if they mean some Internet of Shit camera on the wall then a few choice google searches will probably reveal its burnt-into- firmaware root password.

  • Bad, bad idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rastl ( 955935 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @10:06AM (#55505759) Journal

    Crossover’s Sanjeev Patni insists that workers get over the initial self-consciousness after a few days and accept the need for such monitoring as they do CCTV in shopping malls.

    “The response is ‘OK, I’m being monitored, but if the company is paying for my time how does it matter if it’s recording what I’m doing? It’s only for my betterment,’” he said

    .

    Bull pucky. Of course he's going to say that. He's the one trying to sell his product. And what employee is going to be honest and say "You're being a complete and utter dick for using this product." when they don't have their next gig already lined up?

    If I'm a freelancer and find out I'm going to be subject to measurement by keystrokes and random photographs then there's no way I'm taking that job. And I'll make sure to tell every other freelancer I know that this company is a bunch of controlling jerkwads.

    I have no issue with the company I work for monitoring and limiting internet access, keeping my company email on their server, etc. That's their right and their systems. But this is beyond the pale. Some random algorithm is telling my employer how 'productive' I am.

    If you can't trust your employees then hire new ones. If you can't trust yourself to manage a remote work force then get a job that has butts in seats so you can swagger through your drones and feel that you're providing leadership.

    If you can't tell I think this is a very poor solution to a niche problem.

  • OMG! They are watching the surfing habits.

    So I will immediately quit posting one liner to slashdot while the compiler is chugging along in the other window.

    oh! wait! I already did! I am doomed!

  • by tietokone-olmi ( 26595 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @10:17AM (#55505845)

    The way the scam works is that whenever the Automated System says you weren't lined up correctly for your 10-minute mugshot, or your hands weren't on the keyboard for a large enough percent of the time, or something along those lines, the company docks your pay for that period. (Possibly also the one afterward.) Obviously the company doesn't reject the work done during that time, oh no -- that's for free.

    And good luck having that decision reviewed: your gig will be up as soon as you say "lawsuit". Any internal mechanism for the same goal will massively favour the employer.

    It's an IT sweatshop tool, that's what it is. No surprise that the proponent is subcontinental.

  • If they are doing this to independent contractors they are opening themselves up for all kinds of issues, at least in the US. You pay a 1099 for a product not "productive time." This kind of thing would open them up to employment taxes, penalties for not withholding, and potentially overtime, breaks, and lunch.

    I have one remote employee that bills 4h/week to training due to lack of project assignments, and while I would love to have a better sense of his efficacy (in order to review his compensation), it

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      You pay a 1099 for a product not "productive time."

      That depends on the nature of the contract. Are you paying for a deliverable? Or per hour? Current government policies strongly discourage individuals providing services as subcontractors. So any mention of hours and that person falls into the employee category, due a benefits package, the right to collective bargaining, etc.

      • by mishehu ( 712452 )
        Most any contract that I've seen for a 1099 position that stipulates remuneration based upon hours of work performed state that the company contracting for these services does not have the right to dictate any terms to how the work is performed during those times. To the best of my knowledge, in the USA at least, dictating to contract workers that they have to work in a certain location using these systems at these hours and under this type of surveillance pushes the company closer to "conversion". In oth
  • I have a work environment and a private environment (using VMWare).

    My work traffic goes out over the company Internet.

    Everything else (including some work stuff) goes out over my 4G phone (I have "unlimited" downloads and use 20-50GB/month).

    Many moons ago I was complaining to our internal support people that the web & protocol filtering they had put into place was preventing me from working normally (Uploading debug logs and device diags to manufacturer support ssh servers is part of my job). I got a st

  • I, for one, welcome the web use watching overlords.

    They are the best overlords one can have. They are really great and the people who watch my web surfing are the best managers one can hire. They know what a great employee I am and I am sure they are putting me on the "nice" list and they will give great thumbs up for me. Clive Llyod is the best IT VP , Somachandra De Silva is his able assistant VP. I can not find words to praise Sunil Gavaskar, Chief of Help Desk and Gundappa Ranganath Viswanath the netwo

  • ...How can an employer make sure its remote workers aren't slacking off?...

    If you tell your employees that they cannot earn your trust, why should they even try to earn your trust. If you tell your employees that you believe they won't work unless you are standing over their shoulder (actually or virtually), then why should your employees want to work?

    .
    Your employees will do their best work when they want to work, not when they have to work.

    Every day, at the end of the work day, your employees leave the building with all the knowledge they've acquired about their work. W

  • I don't have too much of a problem. If it is the employers computer, on the employers dime, then you don't have the expectation of privacy as you would at home. Now...if they are monitoring them OUTSIDE of work, THAT is a completely different story!
  • Is person getting their shit done in a timely manner? Yes/No. If Yes, job done. If no, have you given them feedback on this? Yes/No. If Yes, maybe they don't belong here. If no, give them feedback they need to be a little more disciplined.

    Oh wait, that requires actual work. Hahaha, who am I kidding.

    (Actually I'm lucky enough to work in a company that does behave this way)
  • When are managers gong to decide? Are we employees independent, creative, productive individuals who work 100% of the time we're at work? Or are we a bunch of time and resource thieves that have to be monitored to make sure we're not dipping below our productivity goals?

    So much of HR and employee management is rooted in this 70s notion of factory production work. Even white collar jobs were like that back in the day...you'd clock in, work on your paperwork, have a pre-defined set of breaks, and clock out. A

    • Hit one key per drum beat or get the whip!

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      The problem with goal-driven can be unreasonable goals. There are multiple forms of micromanagement possibilities.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      It may not be up to the employer alone. Current tax policies strongly discourage the use of individuals as subcontractors. You have to be an employee of someone. And by that logic, you have to be 'supervised'. Your customer might not like doing this as much as you dislike it. But if you (as the customer) leave a loophole allowing them to claim status as an independent business (and gain access to the associated tax benefits), the IRS (and local taxing authorities) will jump down your throat.

  • You can prevent unwanted "spying". Just install Kaspersky AV.
    (Sorry about the "ad". For some reason Facebook has me blocked.)
  • Sounds like a brainfart of an elitist MBA cunt who does not udestand how real work (especially software engineering) is done. In contrast to the nonsense he/she is doing.
  • Some of my best workers spend lots of their time goofing off. So what? I want to get work done, not have them stare at a screen. Making them stare at a screen doesn't get me reports and doesn't get security holes fixed. Giving them tasks and wanting them done in a reasonable time frame does.

    Should I really penalize the person that can do a 4 hour job in an hour and teach him that it's better for him to make it take 4 hours? Are you high?

  • Talented people don't have to - and largely won't - work for douchey employers. They will go elsewhere and these companies will be left with the lowest common denominator of employees. So while they probably did not need to monitor them at the beginning, after a few years of turnover they certainly will.

    • Talented people don't have to - and largely won't - work for douchey employers. They will go elsewhere and these companies will be left with the lowest common denominator of employees. So while they probably did not need to monitor them at the beginning, after a few years of turnover they certainly will.

      I am not so sure. Maybe in better economic times, yes. Most employers are "douchey." Out of the jobs that I've had, perhaps only 1 or 2 met the criteria as ok places to work. I turned down a job offer as a work from home customer service agent because they required that the agent have a webcam. I asked if this was for assisting customers. They point blank told me it was to ensure that I was working. This sounded sociopathic because they can get their metrics from the phone system. So I it was either not tak

      • Most employers are "douchey."

        Douchey is the new standard. More douchy every day. Not douchy means you must not be doing enough for the stock holders.

  • I deal with the IT department from hell here, seriously. There are a few good, smart people, but they are ruled by the morons. The morons are good at making themselves looks smart to upper management. The CFO actually oversees them & is completely ignorant of IT so they find him easy to impress. Even if my employers actually dropped the capital for this, the IT folks here couldn't figure out how to deploy it. Unless the purchase included deployment.. in that case I might be screwed if they rea

  • How about basing the value of an employee on something as radical as, say, how much the accomplish and the quality of their work? I know, I know, that's just crazy talk, right? I mean, who in their right mind would bother over trifles like what an employee actually gets done? LOL they must all be smarter than us, and watching us every single moment like we're convicts in prison or little children who have to be watched over is better.
  • I'm not sure what they think they're accomplishing by treating their employees like slaves. There may be an initial boost to productivity, but that's quickly going to fall. I assume most people will just start using their phones or finding other ways to distract themselves over time. This guy is an absolute moron.
  • News of my present complicity in the consumer surveillance industry is greatly exaggerated.

    I don't shop at malls until it's my last option.

    But that's already second level.

    I don't shop until it's my last option.

    First, make better use of what I already have, second improvise, third patronise local, independent retail, fourth source the item from one of a handful of primary mail order relationships, fifth head to the appropriate box store, sixth go back to step 1 unless already repeated, seventh grit teeth and

  • I'll bet that if everyone Sanjeev Patni met punched him in the crotch, he would get over the initial pain in a few days and accept the need for such crotch punching.
  • Most good creative people will not continuously hit their keyboards, read only task-related contents, or only talk about task-related issues. There are some, sure, but most of them are not work drones. Analyzing their work behavior with such mentioned surveillance sounds simply too much, and smells like an enourmous source of frustration. There's no way frustration can produce good results. I wouldn't ever tolerate it. There's one simple issue you have to keep in mind: working for someone is a two way stree
  • It's only a matter of time before the bad guys learn how to tap into the video and keyboard stream. The corporation has bugged their own offices and now the bad guys or competition can listen in. Carried to the next step, what if video or audio can be injected by the bad guys and it appears to be coming from the company's own employees?
  • , the most anticipated system begging to be an exciting hack.

    Step 1: Create a script that automates the workstation screenshots, app use, keystorkes, email use and phone use.
    Step 2: Hack the camera to replace with a looped video of you.
    Step 3: Do your actual work else where
    Step 4: Enjoy

    *I guess alternatively you could just find a way to directly change the "focus score" and an "intensity score".

  • ... why use work's machines for personal stuff? Just use your own!

The difference between reality and unreality is that reality has so little to recommend it. -- Allan Sherman

Working...