Companies Don't Have the Right to Spy on Employees

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-05-15 Email Print this article Print
Spying on employees

Issuing company-owned devices or installing apps on personal units doesn't give a business the right to know what an employee is doing every minute of the day.

It's completely understandable that some businesses would use technology to track vehicles, assets and, in some cases, people—while they are at work. However, at least one company appears to be taking the concept too far.

A sales executive in California, Myrna Arias, has just filed a lawsuit against her employer, Intermex, alleging that the firm used an app named Xora to track her movements while she was off work. In fact, she says the company demanded that she keep the phone switched on 24/7. When she removed the app, she says she was fired.

Arias claims that her boss admitted that employees would be monitored while off duty and told her that he knew how fast she was driving at specific moments by viewing the data from the app. She informed him that she had no problem with GPS functionality during working hours, but that she objected to the use of the technology monitoring her personal life.

She is now claiming damages in excess of $500,000. Ars Technica has posted some of the court documents related to this case.

A few years ago, word popped up of an equally creepy trend: employers asking job applicants for their Facebook and Twitter passwords so they could rummage through their accounts before deciding whether to hire them. A few states later passed laws banning such activity, but most punted or ignored the issue.

It's mindboggling to think that any organization—and any human resources department—would sign off on any technology or policy that so clearly steps over the privacy line. Issuing company-owned devices or installing mobile apps doesn't give a business the right to know what an employee is doing every minute of the day.

Moreover, many employees already have little or no separation from work. They're connected 24/7 and even while on vacation. While many executives talk a good game about work-life balance, the reality is that it's often more of a wink and a nod than a genuine concept.

Constant monitoring means that employees work just a bit harder to shine. You played Minecraft or Candy Crush instead of spending a couple of more hours on the big PowerPoint presentation? Forget the promotion. You visited a gay bar or a strip club? You could wind up being sexually harassed or fired.

One can only hope that somehow and in some way, employers get the message: You don't own your employees, and technology does not give you the right to spy on them.

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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