Tech Surveillance: WFH or at the store: All tech eyes are on...

Tech Surveillance: WFH or at the store: All tech eyes are on you


The vast array of technological products and digital platforms we use today sometimes prove to know us better than we know ourselves. With the onslaught of the pandemic, surveillance has also taken on a new paradigm with organisations tracking employees for productivity and performance reasons. Here are some tools that help Big Brother watch us in our offices, home – and even the supermarket aisles. ET reports.

Working from home

Marking attendance at the workplace through biometric devices may well be a thing of the past with the onset of remote working. But companies now mandate employees to connect their devices to productivity tracking tools and official VPNs or Virtual Private Networks to track their activity and safeguard proprietary data. This means if you have been away from your laptop for a few minutes or have been using social media, your employer may know.

Kumar Ritesh, CEO of cybersecurity firm CYFIRMA, says: “The more data savvy organisations get employees to log into VPNs and enforce them to click on a screen that prompts them to ‘start work’ and from there, all the activities of the employee are tracked by the network. Of course, irrelevant data is filtered out in most responsible organisations.”

Tracking tools

Cloud-based productivity tracking programs, better known as ‘bossware’, have reported higher sales during the lockdown, according to analysts. Some of these tools include ActivTrak, Time Doctor, Teramind and Hubstaff. These tools allow many methods of monitoring employees. Managers can view screenshots, login and logout timings and even keystrokes.

WFH store graphic

On the shopfloor

Safety helmets and suits come with sensors for a factory worker that allow monitoring of vital information such as blood pressure and sugar levels, alerting supervisors, in real time, of their health condition on the shopfloor. The same data also allows a manager to track the employee’s productivity; measure alertness and use it for decisions on their performance.

Eyes in supermarket aisles?

Security cameras at supermarkets have been around for a long time. Now video analytics tools are also gaining currency. Companies like Bengaluru-based AllGoVision provide retailers with video analytics solutions that can count the number of people entering and moving about in a store. The data can then be used to monitor the checkout line waiting time among other applications. Facial detection and recognition can also help track how much shoppers engage with products and is also useful for prevention of shoplifting.

Following online shoppers’ footsteps

With many traditional retailers having taken the ecommerce route in the last few years, mobile apps have also become a common phenomenon. Not only can ecommerce websites track users’ shopping habits with cookies, retail apps also use shoppers’ GPS location to push sales or promotional notifications every time they are near a franchise. Cybersecurity experts recommend limiting location access to such applications.

Company at home too

Studies have suggested smart home devices and speakers listen to conversations more than users realise. Researchers from Northeastern University and Imperial College London found that devices accidentally activate as many as 19 times a day, recording as much as 43 seconds of audio each time. Part of Northeastern’s Mon(IoT)r Research Group, they tested five speakers – Google Home Mini, Apple HomePod, Microsoft’s Harman Kardon Invoke, and two different kinds of Amazon Echo Dots.

These speakers were made to binge-listen to several 125-hour cycles of popular TV shows. They found that about half of the accidental recordings lasted six seconds or longer and some as long as 43 seconds without the hypothetical user’s permission or knowledge. The next time you ask a smart device for the weather, privacy experts recommend that you also remember to review and delete your voice recordings.

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