How Covid-19 Is Changing Workplace Surveillance: American Workers’ Experiences and Privacy Expectations When Working from Home

Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant – Summer 2020

Abstract

The future of work is increasingly intertwined with widespread data collection of employee data for workplace monitoring, safety and efficiency tracking, predictive analytics, and performance evaluations. With the global Covid-19 pandemic, work practices have shifted significantly, and many office workers have moved from on-site office environments to working at home. Initial evaluations suggest this shift has not reduced the amount of surveillance occurring; rather, it raises new questions about the appropriateness of collecting data about employees within the home context. This project investigates the sociotechnical implications of emergent workplace and working-at-home surveillance practices due to Covid-19. Through a national survey of American workers, we will examine how individual and workplace factors influence their attitudes toward workplace surveillance. In addition to collecting descriptive data, we will also use factorial vignettes to assess American workers’ level of (dis)comfort about surveillance practices that currently exist or may emerge in the near future. Findings from this project will provide important insights into how new surveillance technologies are being deployed in different industries, how aware different employees are about these new practices, and will highlight key concerns workers might have about different forms of surveillance. The results will also inform both companies and developers regarding appropriate information flows and uses of technology, and how to communicate surveillance practices to workers so that employees are fully informed about any new data practices. Finally, this study will launch a new larger research initiative by the PIs on the unequally distributed harms associated with workplace surveillance.

Research Team

Principal Investigators

Jessica Vitak

Associate Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

  • Bio ▾

    Jessica Vitak is an associate professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland and a subject matter expert in data privacy, surveillance, and ethics. Her research examines the social and ethical implications of big data and empowers people through education and tools that help them make more-informed decisions when using technology. Read more about her research at https://pearl.umd.edu.

Michael Zimmer

Associate Professor, Marquette University

  • Bio ▾

    Michael Zimmer is an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Marquette University and a privacy and internet ethics scholar. His research focuses on digital privacy, internet research ethics, data ethics, and the broader social and ethical dimensions of emerging technologies.

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