ResourceFebruary 6 2019

Explainer: Workplace Monitoring & Surveillance

Alexandra Mateescu,
Aiha Nguyen

Technology enables employers to increasingly monitor their employees. This explainer by Alexandra Mateescu and Aiha Nguyen identifies four current trends in workplace monitoring and surveillance: prediction and flagging tools; biometrics and health data; remote monitoring and time-tracking; and gamification and algorithmic management.

Mateescu and Nguyen consider how each trend impacts workers and workplace dynamics. For instance, freelancers on Upwork can be tracked through their keystrokes, mouse clicks, and screenshots to measure work time for clients. Work that cannot be measured in this way (for example, group brainstorming or long-term planning) may be devalued or go uncompensated.

The authors observe that information asymmetries are deepening as the boundaries of workplace privacy are changing. Tracking metrics like health data, for instance, can make way for discrimination and raises concerns about consent. The type of data employers collect will determine which work is valued, how they evaluate performance, and how workers are classified and compensated.

This explainer from Data & Society provides a basic introductory overview to concepts and current issues around technology’s impact on the workplace. It is being co-released with an explainer on Algorithmic Management in the Workplace. For more coverage of emerging issues in labor and technology, visit Social Instabilities in Labor Futures.

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