Real-time, AI monitoring at work: Major brands are snooping on employee conversations

Bubbajim

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In a nutshell: In the latest encroachment upon workers' privacy, companies like Walmart, T-Mobile, AstraZeneca and BT are turning to a new AI tool to monitor conversations happening on collaboration and chat channels in Teams, Zoom, Slack and more.

For years, businesses have monitored the content of employees' emails, setting up tools and rules to passively check what staff were sending to each other and out into the world. However, this monitoring is set to become significantly more invasive as renowned brands turn to AI tools for overseeing conversations in collaboration and messaging services like Slack, Yammer, and Workplace from Meta.

Aware, a startup from Columbus, Ohio, presents itself as a "contextual intelligence platform that identifies and mitigates risks, strengthens security and compliance, and uncovers real-time business insights from digital conversations at scale." Those "digital conversations" are the chats that workers are having on productivity and collaboration apps.

Those "digital conversations" are the chats that workers are having on productivity and collaboration apps.

The company's flagship product aims to monitor "sentiment" and "toxicity" by using verbal and image detection and analysis capabilities to observe what people discuss and their feelings on various issues.

While the data is ostensibly anonymized, tags can be added for job roles, age, gender, etc., allowing the platform to identify whether certain departments or demographics are responding more or less positively to new business policies or announcements.

Things get worse though with another of their tools, eDiscovery. It enables companies to nominate individuals, such as HR representatives or senior leaders, who could identify specific individuals violating "extreme risk" policies as defined by the company. These 'risks' might be legitimate, such as threats of violence, bullying, or harassment, but it's not hard to imagine the software being instructed to flag less genuine risks.

Speaking to CNBC, Aware co-founder and CEO Jeff Schuman said, "It's always tracking real-time employee sentiment, and it's always tracking real-time toxicity. If you were a bank using Aware and the sentiment of the workforce spiked in the last 20 minutes, it's because they're talking about something positively, collectively. The technology would be able to tell them whatever it was."

While some may argue that there is no right to or expectation of privacy on any company's internal messaging apps, the news of analytic tracking will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on people's speech. There's a world of difference between traditional methods of passive data collection and this new real-time, AI monitoring.

And while Aware is quick to point out that the data on their product is anonymized, that claim is very hard to demonstrate. A lack of names may render the data semantically anonymous, but often it doesn't take more than a handful of data points to piece together who-said-what. Studies going back decades have shown that people can be identified in 'anonymous' data sets using very few and very basic pieces of information.

It will be intriguing to see the repercussions when the first firings occur because AI determined that an individual's Teams chat posed an 'extreme risk'.

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"While some may argue that there is no right to or expectation of privacy on any company's internal messaging apps..."

Exactly, also to include managed PCs, tablets, etc.
 
This will have chilling effects on workplaces as a whole. As if they havent already become incredibly sterile and unfriendly. Gee I wonder why people are so stressed 24/7?

When "sentiment" is encourages and "toxicity" is punished, any, and I mean ANY, dissenting opinion on any team will be quashed. Nobody will dare to speak against bad ideas or practices for fear of having their role terminated due to "toxicity risk". We've already seen this occur on social media for a decade at this point.
Work at work
An AI monitoring you for "negativity" isnt about working or privacy, it is some straight 1984 wrongthink monitoring.
"While some may argue that there is no right to or expectation of privacy on any company's internal messaging apps..."

Exactly, also to include managed PCs, tablets, etc.
"These 'risks' might be legitimate, such as threats of violence, bullying, or harassment, but it's not hard to imagine the software being instructed to flag less genuine risks."

When your job is threatened because you asked a supervisor about a plan he created that is missing crucial information, and you get fired for "extreme risks to company morale" or something similar, its not about privacy. A tool like this is so easily abused....
 
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United States of China.
You think that's bad, take a look at what we made law in the UK: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-67221691

Look behind all the problems of the internet it looks to "solve". It may well work for some of those illegal activities listed, and I will agree the things listed do need to be policed.

However, it also brings with it a complete lack of privacy on every single electronic device in the UK. My two main takeaways from this are it:

- Looks to criminalise the use of whole disk encryption and VPN, unless they have backdoors (defeating their very purpose?). Use of ToR/Dark Web is already illegal here under a separate law passed in 2016 (Investigatory Powers Bill - Known commonly as the "snooper charter")
- All messages and calls sent across various services are monitored (currently excludes WhatsApp and iMessage but that's due to change by the summer). You can be hauled before the courts if you spread mis-information, publish deepfake AI videos/Pictures or for simply just coming across in messages to aggressively and it's seen as bullying or something. Perhaps they should swerve monitoring gaming systems such as Discord - Gamers love to trash talk!

Seriously tho, I feel the UK gives the 'United States of China' a good run for it's money. Probably not too long before we make breathing too much air in public illegal.
 
In some companies, workers are actually monitored via cameras installed in every corner of the work space..
with the addition of AI to monitor workers, workers will be more productive and worker safety will be more guaranteed because there is double monitoring..
but this could be a double-edged sword, tho..
this monitoring can make workers feel watched at work, which in turn makes them feel stressed more quickly..
in the end, how to manage the AI (or other monitoring tools) depends on the management team..
 
Getting major 1984 vibes from this ... 24/7 monitored by an AI, better walk to the middle of the park away from any microphones on bushes to have a conversation, hope you don't end up in the mini-truth
 
If anyone thinks they haven't been being monitored, spied or whatever since like the '50s and beyond. You are simply living in fantasy. The world has become so much smaller because of technology. Like it or not, AI will be a part of our lives going forward. Maybe it always has been here in some small part over the last 80 odd years. Now it's maturing.
 
It's been a long time since people were "permitted" to buy something online, or even over the phone, without bring questioned about how the corporate worker treated you, and your opinion about the product As soon as you part with your email address, look forward to be harassed into becoming a corporate rat against their employee, and / or someone to validate the value or functionality of what you purchased. "AI" is just the latest tool in store's arsenals to intimidate and subjugate customers and employees alike.

I tend to reminisce about, "the good old days", when you could walk into say, Best Buy, in full knowledge that the "associate" you dealt with, was going to be a know nothing a**hole. The upside was, you could take most items directly to the register, avoiding any staff interaction, and you weren't going to be harassed for weeks afterwards with requests to answer, "customer surveys".

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it's deja vu 1984 all over again".
 
In any country in the EU this thing would cause riots... and a lot of it... "land of the free and the brave" ... more like the sheeps ... how can you accept that ? I'm so freaking glad not living in this dystopia
 
In any country in the EU this thing would cause riots... and a lot of it... "land of the free and the brave" ... more like the sheeps ... how can you accept that ? I'm so freaking glad not living in this dystopia
The US is becoming the "least Free" country, and lawless to boot. The Press in the USA is so controlled by the Gov't, that they will not air the protests going on across all of Europe by the farmers.
 
The US is becoming the "least Free" country, and lawless to boot. The Press in the USA is so controlled by the Gov't, that they will not air the protests going on across all of Europe by the farmers.
those farmers are right, I and a lot of ppl in the EU are supporting them, it's healthy for a society that the ppl in it are able and willing to fight if they think they're victims of BS bureaucracy like in this case for the farmers. But of course, those in power don't like that you're not going in their direction and THEIR interest. I saw a lot of yanks yelling "the govt is sh!t, the govt is bad blablabla" ... but it's this ... only blablabla, no acts ... and you're like sur-armed ... look what we do barehands or with farm tractors ... from this side of the pond your society look like a hell populated by indoctrinated slaves ... and it's kinda sad and heartbroking...
 
those farmers are right, I and a lot of ppl in the EU are supporting them, it's healthy for a society that the ppl in it are able and willing to fight if they think they're victims of BS bureaucracy like in this case for the farmers. But of course, those in power don't like that you're not going in their direction and THEIR interest. I saw a lot of yanks yelling "the govt is sh!t, the govt is bad blablabla" ... but it's this ... only blablabla, no acts ... and you're like sur-armed ... look what we do barehands or with farm tractors ... from this side of the pond your society look like a hell populated by indoctrinated slaves ... and it's kinda sad and heartbroking...
Citizens of the US are completely hamstrung. In 3 years, the left has made doing wrong, right and doing what is logical and right prosecuted. I honestly feel we’ve lost the battle. Im old. Old fashion, and tired of this crap…. And, nothing I can do but watch our country go to the crapper.
 
Definitely a case of read your employment contract, as places can sneak just about anything in there if they think people won't read the thing
 
Citizens of the US are completely hamstrung. In 3 years, the left has made doing wrong, right and doing what is logical and right prosecuted. I honestly feel we’ve lost the battle. Im old. Old fashion, and tired of this crap…. And, nothing I can do but watch our country go to the crapper.
the left, the right from our PoV you're all right wing ... all they did was dividing you, making you fight each other but not THEM or asking good questions... divide and conquer (or controle here ) ... the oldest strategy in this world...
 
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