Programs that “spy” on employees’ computers are becoming a trend




Bossware: Eight of the 10 largest private companies in the US use software and technologies to measure employee productivity (Image: Reproduction/Pexels)

Photo: Canaltech

Employees of one of the company’s warehouses Amazon in the US tried to form a union in March of this year after discovering that the company was monitoring employees. More than that: portable package tracking scanners served as surveillance tools. Practice abroad has a name and a trend: the bossware.

The term can be translated to something like “boss software” — a mixture of the English words “boss” and “ware”, in relation to the word software. With the rise of asynchronous and remote work models in the covid pandemic of 2020 and 2021, many bosses have adopted technologies to screen subordinates, often considering maximum performance at the expense of well-being.

Another report seen in the British newspaper The Guardian in April was about James (not his real name), an analyst from the East Coast of the US who had worked for ten years at a large local retailer and had to adhere to remote work during the pandemic. . He noticed that they were watching him after an online meeting to figure out how to fill the time off from work. In particular: avoid periods when the team was not “writing data to the database”.

This type of practice is far from isolated: eight of the 10 largest private companies in the US use software and technologies to measure employee productivity, both in physical offices and at home, according to the New York Times.

Another survey this year by digital.com found that 60% of 1,250 US companies use some form of bossware to track remote teams, and another 17% are considering implementing such tools. Of those who were already monitoring, a large proportion (88%) even terminated employees based on the data provided by the software.

Examples of bossware

ON TimeDoctor allows monitoring of every step taken on the computer during working hours, even when there is no Internet connection. These range from activity start and end times to even charting the most frequently used websites and apps during periods when employees are “unproductive”.

The paid version doesn’t track what employees do “during breaks and breaks,” but instead uses methods like regular screenshots, keyboard and mouse monitoring, and browser activity to “verify that the time being tracked is actually work-focused.” .

ON Enable tracks daily employee activities such as time spent using e-mail, in meetings, and on specific tasks. Employees have access to a score based on their performance, and can check if they did better in one month or another.

already staff policeman Not only does it monitor employee activities in writing, but it also records microphone sounds at moments that may be of interest to those watching. One of the available resources, for example, allows the categorization of applications and websites into “productive” and “non-productive”, with remote computer monitoring “without notice” of the user.



Amazon marked employee downtime, including bathroom breaks or occasional breaks and conversations with colleagues.

Amazon marked employee downtime, including bathroom breaks or occasional breaks and conversations with colleagues.

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The technology is new, but the surveillance is old

The pandemic only catalyzed the old habit of companies to look after their teams. “Even before, with employees working in person, companies already used such tools as curbing dispersive activities,” reports Daniele Nazari, a psychologist at the emotional health platform Zenklub.

This is backed up by a 2019 study by Gartner, which found that more than 50% of 239 large corporations analyzed used some non-traditional monitoring technique — well up from the 30% the same consulting firm confirmed in 2015. What’s Changed Here is the search for more modern software in this sense.

The scenario experienced in Amazon is already a good example of the consequences of tracking. Documents published in June of this year by Vice’s Motherboard column refer to the retailer’s “Time Off Task” (TOT) metric. It marked work breaks for employees, including trips to the bathroom or occasional moments of decompression and conversation with colleagues. There are reports of people urinating into bottles to prevent breaks from being counted as “work breaks”.

When TOT became a deductible item, the problem got worse: According to the documents, Amazon would consider more than 30 minutes of TOT accumulated by an employee in a workday as cause for a warning. If the behavior was recorded more than once during the year, dismissal would be justified.

But this is not illegal according to the labor law.

As controversial as it sounds, surveillance is far from illegal. And practice does not always have an arbitrary purpose – at least not in theory. One of the justifications is to ensure that the equipment provided by the company is used for work purposes. In a digital.com survey, for example, 50% of companies say they use bossware for this purpose.

An excerpt from the Consolidation of Labor Law (CLT) justifies such control, stating that it is the duty of the company to assume the risks of economic activity. In other words, there is room for practice “especially for the protection of assets, customers and employees,” according to Henrique Fabretti Moraes, a lawyer specializing in privacy and data protection at Opice Blum, Bruno and Vainzof.

In cases where a company, for example, assigns laptops and smartphones to a worker, “there is legal support for them to monitor what is being done with their assets, including the level of use — which could correspond to the work performed by the employee,” adds Márcio Cots, professor of technological law at the FIAP University Center.

The exception to the rule, he continues, is when “the company does not formally require that its property be used only for work purposes. In this case, it could create an ‘expectation of privacy’ in the employee,” which can prevent the devices, because privacy is at stake. employee.



The General Data Protection Act (LGPD) provides for restrictions and rules for remote work monitoring

The General Data Protection Act (LGPD) provides for restrictions and rules for remote work monitoring

Photo: Digital Money Information

What does GDPR say?

The General Data Protection Act (LGPD) provides for restrictions and rules. Proponents say that good faith surveillance should always be reported to the employee, along with the purpose of the data collection.

“Assuming that the collected data identifies or can identify the employee, it is essential that the employer presents information in a clear and accessible manner about which data will be collected and for which or for what purposes it will be used,” says Moraes.

The employer must therefore ensure that the practice does not exceed “the proportion necessary to achieve the purpose of which the employee has been notified, and does not use the information in an unlawful or offensively discriminatory manner.” According to the lawyer, this was vetoed by the LGPD and also by the Constitution.

Moraes also argues that the use of tools such as working time control can be a way to defend the rights and interests of employees in labor disputes, for example.

Possible implications

In times of moral bullying, pressure to perform and expectations of inconsistent delivery, crises like depression and burnout are on the agenda. An InfoJobs survey from September 2022 points out that 60% of professionals do not feel psychologically safe where they work. Of these, 77% claim that there are no actions or support for the welfare of employees. “The pandemic, social isolation and fear of covid-19 have accelerated the discussion about mental health in companies,” notes Ana Paula Prado, CEO of the consultancy.

So, legal issues aside, it’s worth considering: Is tracking the best way to guarantee good performance? For Daniele Nazari, from Zenklub, companies are wrong when they use tools solely for the purpose of evaluation, especially if it is the basis for defining promotion, recognition and dismissal.

“It’s understandable that organizations feel the need to adopt this type of tracking and collect more data on employee productivity, but it has to be an integrative management tool,” he says. That is, the obtained data can guide actions for professional development and employee well-being, with performance adjustment.

The psychologist points out that software can be one of the evaluation criteria, but not the only one. “Even because it’s a mechanized resource and we’re talking about people who have lives, emotions and different contexts within their homes in remote work,” he claims.

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