A RISING number of bosses are spying on employees working from home during the pandemic, according to shocking new research.
As many as one in five UK firms admit to either using or planning to use secretive software to digitally monitor workers without their consent.
As many as one in five firms admit to using secretive software and apps to snoop on employees
The programs, which can track emails, messages and meeting attendance, are often hidden on work laptops or within otherwise innocuous apps used by staff every day.
Those deemed to be slacking may be unfairly punished or fired while they’re home-schooling or looking after elderly relatives, unions warn.
The findings have led to calls for new laws to be brought in against shady bosses using the coronavirus pandemic as cover to snoop on workers.
According to the YouGov/Skillcast survey, 12 per cent of all firms have already implemented remote tracking software, with that growing to 16 per cent at larger firms.
According to a survey, 12 per cent of all firms have already implemented remote tracking software, with that growing to 16 per cent at larger firmsCredit: Alamy
A tenth of the 2,009 companies interviewed for the poll between October 27 and November 4 2020 confirmed they were considering introducing digital forms of employee tracking.
Labour is demanding that ministers review “woefully outdated” protections for employees working from home.
Shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah said further data protection was needed to guard home workers against being snooped on “without their informed consent”.
As well as the YouGov survey, Labour said research by the Trade Union Congress found one in seven workers reported that monitoring and surveillance at work had increased during the coronavirus crisis.
The pandemic has led to millions no longer commuting into the office in a bid to halt the spread of the disease.
Common snooping apps used by employers include Time Doctor, Teramind, VeriClock, innerActiv, ActivTrak and Hubstaff.
Video conference software Zoom has an attention-tracking feature that can alert hosts if you look away during a meeting, possibly because you’re not paying attentionCredit: AFP or licensors
The software is often marketed as a way to raise general productivity and to stop employees “over-working”.
As well as keeping a check on messages, online software can log how long it takes people to reply and record regular screen shots.
But unscrupulous employers can also hijack seemingly “safe” apps to spy on workers.
It’s possible, for example, for your boss to read private texts sent over instant messaging service Slack.
Video conference software Zoom has an attention-tracking feature that can alert hosts if you look away during a meeting, possibly because you’re not paying attention.
In a further encroachment on workers’ rights, Amazon last year created a new security camera system that helps bosses check if you’re wearing a face mask and following Covid rules in the office.
According to the TUC, artificial intelligence is increasingly playing a role in redundancy decisions.
What is Zoom?
- Popular chat app Zoom is best-known for offering video calls – including calls with huge numbers of people
- There’s a free tier with unlimited meetings, but these group chats are capped at 40 minutes
- The most expensive tier gets you meetings with up to 1,000 participants, but there are cheaper options
- Perhaps the only downside is that Zoom has had privacy issues in the past, which may put some businesses off
- Signing up to Zoom is free and easy
- Anyone can sign up to Zoom by download the app, or heading to the official website
Labour is calling for the Code of Employment Practices from the Information Commissioner’s Office to be updated in light of the rapid changes to how people are working during the recent spate of lockdowns.
The opposition party is also calling for any use of personal data through surveillance to be subject to a data protection impact assessment, as well as consultation with employees and trade unions, before it is introduced
Ms Onwurah said: “Guidance and regulation to protect workers are woefully outdated in light of the accelerated move to remote working and rapid advancements in technology.
“The bottom line is that workers should not be digitally monitored without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers.
“Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home – which are increasingly one and the same.”
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport spokesperson said: “The UK has world leading data protection laws and strict rules around the digital monitoring of employees.
“The Information Commissioner has tough powers to investigate and fine companies which breach an employee’s right to privacy.”
In other news, a new tool called “Bufferi.ng” claims it can help people fake a bad video call connection so you can take a break from meetings.
A dangerous Amazon gift card scam emerged last month that can steal your bank account details in seconds.
And, a hacker locked up people’s PENISES by breaking into their “smart” chastity cages this month – and demanded a $750 ransom for their release.
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