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  • Writer's pictureChristina J. Colclough

Employers are tracking us. Let's track them back

Article by 5 Media based on interview with me. Published September 4, 2020. Illustrations by Morten Voigt

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Employers are using tech to track their employees ever more closely. Time for workers to reclaim their own data – and turn the surveillance back on their taskmasters, says Christina Colclough. Here’s what you need to know about your data, your rights, and how you can make sure they are protected.

Knowledge is power

“We have sleepwalked into this situation,” says Christina wistfully. “Tech has run amok in the last decades.” Indeed, it’s hard to ignore how technology has become an all-consuming aspect of modern life, while laws struggle to keep up. Many of the services that we all rely on are run by huge private businesses with more power and money than many countries, and require us to sign our data away with little understanding of where it really goes.

In the modern economy, data is power. For employers, the power they hope to gain from intelligent data systems is even more direct: the promise of employee surveillance is to boost productivity, gain competitive advantage and thereby grow profits. It also cements the position of power that employers have over employees – hence Christina’s concerns.

Mine your own business

It’s time, Christina says, for the “workers to start kicking back”. This is the idea behind Christina’s new app, WeClock (available now for Android devices and in beta for Apple devices) which promises to “give work a reality check”. Using the app, workers can track things like how far they have to travel to work, whether they’re taking their allotted breaks, and how long they spend working out of hours. They can then share this data with their union, which can use it, not to sell them things, but as ammunition for the next negotiation. It also provides an accurate and up-to-date source of aggregate data about key issues affecting worker wellbeing.

Ideally, Christina says, it would be unions who owned employees’ work data, which they could then allow employers to view (but not necessarily keep) on agreed terms. That relies on workers being unionised, which relies on them feeling a sense of common cause and solidarity.

For Christina, it’s not about the technology, it’s about who is in control of it. She wants workers to question what they are being asked to accept as the new normal of workplace tracking. “Digitisation is here, so data will be created,” she says. “But who should have control and access over that data? Why exclusively the employers?”


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