Can Your Boss Know Enough About You?

In 2015 the data analysis firm, Cambridge Analytica usurped the data of millions of Facebook users in an effort to sway the presidential election in the U.S. In 2018 Facebook admitted that the data was stolen. The breach in trust was unsettling. Recently I have read about how some corporations, in the name of improved efficiency and productivity, are collecting data on their employees. How is the data collected, interpreted and used, is the data secure? to read about how corporations, in the name of efficiency and productivity, are collecting data on their employees The data collected is meant to help the employees improve their performance and health. Once again, as in the Facebook example, there isn’t much legislation in place regulating the use of the data and how it is collected, stored and secured for U.S. employees. The assumption is that the company collecting the data will be vigilant about breaches and bad actors and protect the data of their associates and inform them immediately if it is suspected that the information has been misused or sold. As seen in many cases, when there is a breach in data security few companies are ready to publicly admit it.

I am not against the idea of helping people improve their performance at work, hopefully resulting in some improvement to their personal lives, but it seems to me that we are at that stage where the capability to collect and analyze mountains of data is very exciting and we aren’t giving much consideration to bad actors or the downside of these activities. It does not seem that privacy of the individual being studied can be guaranteed. It may be exciting for your boss to think that through the study of the collected data, he or she will be able to predict your behavior, to know if you are the right candidate for a new position in the firm or if you are looking elsewhere or if the company will be shelling out a lot of money in health insurance because of your current health.

This is not science fiction out of George Orwell’s novel 1984. It is happening today courtesy of research at MIT. Humanyze is the company in Boston Massachusetts that took the MIT research and turned it into a business. Their product was written about in an article that appeared in the Washington Post. Employees wear an ID badge that captures location information; the length of time spent in that location and can measure the biometrics of the wearer. It also monitors conversations. The company says that the audible data is collected in aggregate, not conversationally and that they discourage the company employing the technology from getting specifics on what is said and by who, so the ability does exist. The potential to hone in on what was said and by whom is a possibility.  Many employees opt-in to wearing the ID cards voluntarily because it makes it easier to get around the building without having to dig out the card every time you change floors or enter and exit the building. At least it is convenient.

Not everything is quantifiable. The data doesn’t mean anything without a solid hypothesis behind it also; there are different ways to interpret the same data. A balanced approach is required when reviewing such information. Data alone, cannot possibly tell the whole story. It is interesting to note that many of the companies using this technology don’t necessarily want to broadcast it. They prefer privacy on that front.

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