Almost 80 percent of employers report using monitoring software designed to track employee performance and/or spy on their online activity.1 Wait, you didn’t think that your newfound work-from-home gig operated on the honor system, did you?
There are few objective truths in life, but one thing you can bank on is an employer’s will to exploit their employees. While you were enjoying the extra sleep that WFH affords you, your employer was researching innovative new ways to squeeze more out of you whilst giving you less.
Understanding the extreme measures employers are invading your privacy is a big step. And we are hopeful that somewhere, someone exists who’s willing to create a solution to these invasive, harmful, and unethical spying technologies.
The Current State of Remote Work
Employers sure can be creative when they need to be. Don’t believe me? Just look at all of the flowery doublespeak they use to describe their precious spyware. Things like performance management software, task management software, employee management software, or HR management software are all just cutesy names for the kind of freedom-stealing tech that hackers have been using for decades.
The situation is so much worse than business email monitoring. Many employees traffic in outrageous levels of espionage. Watching you through your webcam, monitoring your keystrokes, and covertly recording device audio are common practices.
Let’s take a look at some of the objectively unethical ways employers are inviting their employees privacy in 2022.
1. 24/7 Monitoring of Calendars, Notes, and Reminders
These days, a lot of remote employees have no problem making their calendars public. It’s standard practice.
But for some nosey employers, the ability to view their staff’s public calendars isn’t nearly enough. Instead, they invest in software that alerts them when an employee creates a new calendar event, makes a new note, or sets up a new reminder. These are automated applications designed to streamline spying, making it easier and much more efficient.
2. Sneaking Screenshots
If your employee secretly stealing screenshots of your desktop doesn’t make your skin crawl, then you should check yourself for a pulse. Some of the most popular employee tracking programs are designed to automatically take timed screenshots of your workstation’s desktop as frequently as every five minutes.
That’s not all either. Some of these programs offer features that can store video recordings of an employee’s entire day, and even offer a real-time, live video feed of every company workstation and every employee on staff.
3. Activating Keyloggers
Keyloggers are a powerful tool. In the wrong hands, they can be incredibly dangerous. Whatever way you slice it, keyloggers are a monumental invasion of privacy akin to monitoring a webcam without permission or secretly recording audio.
Keyloggers are used to record every keystroke an employee types on a keyboard. They can store a near-infinite amount of employee usage data, send keyword-initiated alerts to nosey employees, and even harvest sensitive log-in data like passwords and banking information. Even worse, keyloggers are becoming more popular with each passing day.
4. Monitoring Instant Messages
Hybrid work arrangements and full time remote work is largely made possible thanks to popular instant messaging applications like Slack and Microsoft Teams. These are usually employer mandated programs and most employees expect some level of instant message monitoring within their respective digital workplace ecosystems.
Now though, employers need not limit their surveillance to company-mandated programs. Employee monitoring software has advanced such that even personal instant messaging programs, when used on an infected computer, can be monitored.
5. Spying on Mobile Devices
The surveillance doesn’t necessarily stop when you shutdown your computer either. Many of the employer-sanctioned spyware tools can be transferred to mobile devices easily and effectively.
If you depend on an employer-supplied cell phone or make the mistake of downloading an intrusive app to your personal phone, you’d do well to assume that your boss can see everything from internet search history to social media DMs. Some software even allows employers to remotely view smartphone activity in real time. That’s a heck of a lot of power just waiting there, ready to be abused.
6. Storing Communication Logs
There are always opportunities for unethical software developers to cash in on the growing employee surveillance sector. You’d be shocked to discover how many communication-centered spying options there truly are.
It’s really quite easy for an employer to infect a workplace cell phone with spyware that unlocks unfettered access to an employee’s communication logs and more. We’re talking audio recordings of every phone call you’ve ever made, itemized logs of every text message, e-mail, and instant message… heck, even your social network activity could be itemized, stored, and ready to be dissected.
7. Intercepting VOIP Calls
VOIP calls, or Voice Over Internet Protocol communications tools, allow employees to make phone calls, host video chats, and take part in multimedia sessions over the internet. The classification covers nearly all forms of internet-based communication including Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, and more.
These real-time communication tools have proven invaluable to remote workers and their employers. Effectively providing companies all over the world with a digital boardroom or a web-based watercooler. Sadly though, they aren’t immune to spying either. Many employee monitoring software suites include the option to intercept, record, and log VOIP communications without the participants even knowing.
8. Monitoring Internet Usage
It’s in your best interest to assume that everything you do on an employer-owned workstation is being monitored at all times. But just because you assume that your on-the-clock browsing data is being monitored doesn’t make it any less invasive.
You’d be hard pressed to find an employee monitoring software company that doesn’t provide its clients with the basic ability to monitor the internet usage of their staff. This includes things like search history, bookmarks, time stamped URLs, and detailed accounts of what websites were visited and how often.
9. Mobile Keylogger
A mobile keylogger operates under a similar principle to regular keyloggers with one critical distinction: mobile keyloggers are designed to be used on touch screen devices. Just like your standard keylogger, a mobile keylogger is capable of harvesting all touchscreen input data to be stored and dissected at the perpetrator’s leisure. This includes things like passwords, log-in credentials, and sensitive personal data.
10. GPS Tracking
GPS tracking is useful and generally considered acceptable when used by delivery services, moving companies, or any businesses where employees are expected to travel a lot. Unfortunately, GPS tracking isn’t limited to just those companies.
Many employers have access to a variety of GPS-based tracking technologies that can accomplish everything from basic spot tracking to actively maintaining a location history database. Something to keep in mind next time you travel with your laptop or work phone.
11. Geofencing Alerts
Used in tandem with GPS tracking, geofencing is an automated tool that’s used to send your employer alerts every time an employee enters or exits a customized border zone. Geofencing can be abused in a number of different ways. They can be installed on a mobile device or a laptop as a way to keep an active watch over an employee as soon as they leave their workplace or even their home. It’s a streamlined, intuitive service that can be set to stay on 24/7.
12. Covert Audio Recording
When we said that there is no spying tactic that’s off limits for these underhanded bosses we meant it. Case in point, the popularity of employee monitoring programs with covert audio recording capabilities.
You never know. Your employee owned laptop or cell phone could come loaded with an unseen app that’s designed to secretly activate the device’s microphone and record whatever it hears. The technology to do so certainly exists. The question is whether or not you believe your employer is capable of such despicable behavior.
13. Covert Access to a Device’s Camera and Multimedia Storage
It may be hard to hear, but heed this warning: your employer could be watching you at this very moment. I’m just saying, a lot of these gray-area employee monitoring programs can be used to remotely take over a device’s camera, take secret screenshots, and even access and download a device’s entire multimedia cache.
Features like this are more than just concerning. They really should be illegal.
14. Absolute Device Control
Talk about micromanaging. Some employers are so desperate for control that they enlist the services of software designed to do just that. There exists a whole slew of applications that don’t just monitor an employee’s usage, but grant the employer the ability to completely take over their workstation.
This unbridled and unethical power can be used to harvest data, view sensitive documents, and even completely wipe a device’s data remotely and without permission.2
See? We told you it was bad. There really are no depths an employer won’t sink to to get an edge over their competition and wrangle control over your life. This is just the tip of the iceberg too. Every day, employers are investing more money into new, emerging technologies designed to keep a watchful eye on you.
You can’t protect yourself from something that you know nothing about. Learning about these unethical practices is the first step towards protecting your interests. That, and hoping for a few good-intentioned software developers to emerge from the darkness with some critical protections designed to save workers, and bring balance back to the remote work landscape.