Employees fight back: Spy software in the workplace

Since working from home became the new normal due to the ongoing global pandemic, trust and employee privacy has been thrust into the spotlight, or lens, in some cases.

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A couple of months ago, we published a story on Barclays' decision to install tracking software on their employee's computers so they could see how many times their workers were absent from the desk, or just inactive. The move was met with severe backlash from the public, which forced the banking company to retract their steps. PwC also announced they developed facial recognition software to also track their employees absence, which was also met with unfavourable views.

Software such as Time Doctor, ActivTrak, Teramind have seen a surge in demand, but there is also a collection of anti-tracking software that has welcomed more popularity. Presence Scheduler, is a program that sets your Slack status to permanently active, throwing employers off the scent. Presence Scheduler enjoyed doubled sales and traffic in the first two months of lockdown. 

Employees don't seem to have taken lightly to the tech grip their employers have, feeling untrusted and undervalued, so some have decided to fight back and oppose the new big brother-esque relationship. 

One ex Barclays employee David*, talks about how back in 2017 he found a sensor device mounted under his desk. Three years on, tracking devices have become more discreet and clever. Now working from home for another company and being monitored, he's worked out a way to get around the situation. 

“They set the screensaver timeout to the smallest setting – ten minutes – and make it impossible to change. To see if you’re at your desk, they just have to count your timeouts: clever. We have an instant messenger that doesn't work that well and can’t be uninstalled. It feels like it was purpose-made so every communication and email can be instantly monitored. We organise work drinks on it, but you have to assume that everything is being read.”

David gives his solution: "I use one of those programs which creates fake mouse movements."

A Florida-based programmer also commented on how he is working around the surveillance. “My employer sent me a laptop running with all their corporate spyware on it. "Right next to it is my own computer for all my personal stuff. Can they detect when I haven’t touched the laptop for an hour? Possibly. But I’m not being paid by the hour.”

The reason for employees fighting back isn't a case of less work, more Netflix snd chill, it's more a concern for their own privacy. 

Ksenia Bakina, legal officer for Privacy International says: “Employees generally shouldn’t be subject to surveillance when working from home,” argues “Any monitoring software could be deemed too intrusive if there are other means to achieve the same result.”


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