Are You Being Watched?

By: Julia Szaniawska

Gone are the days where you watch your boss leave and you take a short break, walk around, go to the bathroom, or visit a co-worker, without your employer finding out about it. Recent technology, that generate heat maps or tap into air conditioning systems, track movement throughout the office, collecting every bit of information regarding employees and their whereabouts. [1] Companies such as OccupEye, Humanyze, and Enlightened advertise that they are “intended to reduce energy costs, ensuring that empty cubicles [aren’t] overheated or over-air-conditioned,” all while these devices are able to track conference room usage, employee locations, and frequency of conversations.[2] These sensors are hidden in cameras, light fixtures, ID badges, and under desks.[3] The goal is to increase office efficiency, maximize space, and improve lighting.[4] Companies have seen increases in savings of energy costs after implementing these sensor-based systems, but doesn’t it seem a bit invasive?[5]

Employees have mixed feelings about these tracking devices. [6] Enlightened keeps their data anonymous, and employees seem to be fine with this.[7] However, when the journalists at Telegraph found trackers under their desks from OccupEye, they were very suspicious about the employers’ intensions, and the company eventually had them removed.[8] Humanyze, on the other hand, places trackers in worker’s badges to monitor their physical and verbal usage.[9] The company claims the data they collect is anonymous and will not be used to evaluate worker performance,[10] but rather be used to determine the office design’s effect on employee communication.[11]

At a Finnish company, Futurice employees developed a similar system using Wi-Fi beacon triangulation, in which employees can opt-in and download an app to participate.[12] They attached small wireless sensors, which send radio signals from a location or object, allowing cellphones that download the app to receive and interpret where certain employees are.[13]

Sure we have been monitored by our workplace computers for the past two decades, but this kind of location monitoring is a more recent and advanced issue.[14] These tracking devices can provide location and interaction information to your employer or fellow co-workers, raising many concerns.[15] How can these companies ensure that a fellow co-worker won’t use the information against you? As in Futurice, they can offer an opt-in opportunity or provide that the employer notifies the employees of their system installation.[16] In the U.S., business are able to act as “Big Brother,” and keep tabs on their employees everywhere except the bathroom.[17] As for case law, currently there is none, as this is recent technology that has become available to the public, but we can be sure to expect some soon. Privacy online has been a “stumbling block for a long time,” and still remains a hot topic in the legal world.[18]

[1] Rebecca Greenfield, New Office Sensors Know When You Leave Your Desk, Bloomberg (Feb. 14, 2017, 7:30 AM), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-14/new-office-sensors-know-when-you-leave-your-desk?cmpid=socialflow-twitter-business&utm_content=business&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social; Debra Cassens Weiss, Your employer may be using sensors to track your location at work, ABA Blueprint (Feb. 15, 2017), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/office_sensors_are_being_used_to_track_employee_locations_and_interactions.

[2] Greenfield, supra note 1.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Gene Marks, These office sensors can track employees wherever they go, The Washington Post (Feb. 15, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-small-business/wp/2017/02/15/these-office-sensors-can-track-employees-wherever-they-go/?utm_term=.73e6685f549c.

[6] Greenfield, supra note 1.

[7] Id.

[8] Claire Zillman, Here’s Yet Another Way Your Boss Can Spy on You, Fortune (Jan. 13, 2016), http://fortune.com/2016/01/13/employee-surveillance-motion-sensors/.

[9] Greenfield, supra note 1.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Claire Burke, In offices of the future, sensors may track your every move- even in the bathroom, The Guardian (Sept. 15, 2016, 2:00 PM), https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/sep/15/in-offices-of-the-future-sensors-may-track-your-every-move-even-in-the-bathroom.

[13] Id.

[14] Zillman, supra note 7.

[15] Greenfield, supra note 1.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Vivian Giang, Companies Are Putting Sensors On Employees To Track Their Every Move, Business Insider (Mar. 14, 2013, 6:23 PM), http://www.businessinsider.com/tracking-employees-with-productivity-sensors-2013-3.

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