You probably know by now that your company is allowed to monitor your work email address and your phone usage on the job. But corporate detectives, which NPR’s All Things Considered reported on yesterday, bring a whole new 1984 vibe to the office: They’re using counterterrorism software to build a portrait of employee time use. Activities that raise red flags include switching from email use to phone use, or a decline in email responsiveness. Don’t panic, just keep acting exactly like you’re acting and don’t vary your routine at all, ever!
NPR’s Ailsa Chang profiled one corporate detective firm called K2. There, the detective shows off software that lets him take “snapshots” of any employee’s behavior in the office at any time. “We see that this guy Kevin all of a sudden started calling the 410 area code where he never did that before, and he stopped answering emails — he’s being less responsive to his peers,” Unger told Chang, probably not creepily at all. “What has he got cooking on the outside that he’s spending so much time on the phone and he’s not able to answer his peers?”
Unger isn’t interested in Kevin’s chats with his girlfriend. He’s interested in behavior changes, because when someone is planning something suspicious, like an illegal insider stock trade, they usually start to act differently first.
So, for example, if Kevin and a coworker usually email each other but suddenly switch to phone, and in that same period Kevin makes a big trade, that’s a red flag. It indicates he and his new phone buddy were planning something and they didn’t want to leave a paper trail behind. (Or maybe it indicates Kevin read something online about how using the phone is better for business than emailing.)
K2 says it can uncover insider trader, money laundering, bribery, embezzlement, and fraud. It employs former CIA agents, investigative reporters, and prosecutors. And it’s doing big business with huge companies including JPMorgan Chase. Its clients are mostly interested in avoiding the huge fines that come with serious behind-the-scenes fraud.
Critics worry that these detective firms could be hired to do things like ferret out union organizers, or spy on whistle-blowers. K2 says that’s never been part of their business. But I can’t help feeling a bit creeped out at the idea of a detective scrolling through screenshots of my work day. Is treating every employee like a potential felon requiring constant surveillance really the way to build trust? Please answer carefully; your response will be recorded and analyzed.