Select Page
What to Do When Your Boss Is Spying on You

What to Do When Your Boss Is Spying on You

You’re not being paranoid. If you always feel like somebody’s watching you, as the song goes, you’re probably right. Especially if you’re at work.

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, as labor shifted to work-from-home, a huge number of US employers ramped up the use of surveillance software to track employees. The research firm Gartner says 60 percent of large employers have deployed such monitoring software—it doubled during the pandemic—and will likely hit 70 percent in the next few years.

That’s right—even as we’ve shifted toward a hybrid model with many workers returning to offices, different methods of employee surveillance (dubbed “bossware” by some) aren’t going away; it’s here to stay and could get much more invasive. 

As detailed in the book Your Boss Is an Algorithm, authors Antonio Aloisi and Valerio de Stefano describe “expanded managerial powers” that companies have put into place over the pandemic. This includes the adoption of more tools, including software and hardware, to track worker productivity, their day-to-day activities and movements, computer and mobile phone keystrokes, and even their health statuses. 

This can be called “datafication” or “informatisation,” according to the book, or “the practice by which every movement, either offline or online, is traced, revised and stored as necessary, for statistical, financial, commercial and electoral purposes.”

Ironically, experts point out that there’s not sufficient data to support the idea that all this data collection and employee monitoring actually increases productivity. But as the use of surveillance tech continues, workers should understand how they might be surveilled and what, if anything, they can do about it.

What Kind of Monitoring Is Happening?

Using surveillance tools to monitor employees is not new. Many workplaces continue to deploy low-tech tools like security cameras, as well as more intrusive ones, like content filters that flag content in emails and voicemails or unusual activity on work computers and devices. The workplace maxim has long been that if you’re in the office and/or using office phones or laptops, then you should never assume any activity or conversation you have is private.

But the newer generation of tools goes beyond that kind of surveillance to include monitoring through wearables, office furniture, cameras that track body and eye movement, AI-driven software that can hire as well as issue work assignments and reprimands automatically, and even biometric data collection through health apps or microchips implanted inside the body of employees.

Some of these methods can be used to track where employees are, what they’re doing at any given moment, what their body temperature is, and what they’re viewing online. Employers can collect data and use it to score workers on their individual productivity or to track data trends across an entire workforce.

These tools aren’t being rolled out only in office spaces, but in work-from-home spaces and on the road to mobile workers such as long-haul truck drivers and Amazon warehouse workers.

Is This Legal?

As you might imagine, the laws of the land have had a hard time keeping up with the quick pace of these new tools. In most countries, there are no laws specifically forbidding employers from, say, video-monitoring their workforce, except in places where employees should have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” such as bathrooms or locker rooms.

In the US, the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act laid out the rule that employees should not intercept employee communication, but its exceptions—that they can be intercepted to protect the privacy and rights of the employer or if business duties require it, or if the employee granted prior permission—make the law toothless and easy to get around.

How AI Could Transform Email

How AI Could Transform Email

What if your inbox were jam-packed with AI-generated emails? You may already be on the receiving end of emails written by artificial intelligence, with the help of a human prompter. Austin Distel, a senior director of marketing at Jasper, is one of those humans. 

Austin smiles as he demonstrates Japer’s knack for email composition. “These are tools in my tool belt that helped me perform faster, but also better,” he says before sharing that he often uses generative AI to rewrite work emails so they sound like Jerry Seinfeld.

What’s the Deal With Autocomplete?

Email is one the least authentic forms of communication. The stock phrases and courtesy replies are comically robotic. Like, why do you hope this email finds me well? Google has used machine learning in Gmail for the past few years to generate one sentence replies and predict what you’re likely to type next. Newer companies, like Compose AI, might enable people to further rely on autocomplete functions while sending emails.

“Autocomplete is not going to sway you away from what you already want to type. It’s just going to accelerate it,” says Michael Shuffett, a founder and CEO of Compose AI. Although large blocks of AI-generated text from models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT are quite popular, smaller snippets crafted by autocomplete are easier to control at the present moment. It’s akin to riding a tandem bike with a robot versus letting it ride your bike alone at night after giving a one-sentence command. The first option requires more effort, but you’re more likely to reach your intended destination together.

Will major email providers, like Gmail and Outlook, roll out additional AI-powered features to help you breeze through an overstuffed inbox? Aparna Pappu, a vice president and general manager at Google Workspace, mentions multiple ways the company uses AI to assist people when writing messages and detecting spam. In a statement sent to WIRED over, well, email, her attitude on generative AI mirrors most of the messaging coming from Google on the topic: excited, albeit cautious.

“We are in a new era of AI where large language models have the power to take that helpfulness to the next level,” writes Pappu. “We know it’s essential that this work is done with the utmost care for safety, quality, and groundedness.” Businesses who use Microsoft’s customer relationship management system, Viva Sales, can experiment with a generative AI tool for drafting reply emails. Potential canned prompts for the AI include stuff like discount offers and question replies. Microsoft declined to comment for this article, and reaching out to its Bing chatbot for a quote about Outlook felt kinda trite. Sorry, Sydney! 😊

Will the AI Hit Reply All?

So, the future of email may have a more comprehensive autocomplete. Is that revolutionary? Not really.

It would be transformative if a personalized AI model could write complete, high-quality emails in your tone of voice. White-collar workers who spend their days tap, tap, tapping responses on their laptops would essentially get access to a digital executive assistant. Imagine a world where robots spend their days “circling back” on projects and sending “quick pings,” while professionals laze about sipping Mai Tais and focusing on client presentations.

A New Wave of Dating Apps Takes Cues From TikTok and Gen Z

A New Wave of Dating Apps Takes Cues From TikTok and Gen Z

The pandemic could have doomed online dating. Instead, it sent singles swiping more than ever before. Sanctions on in-person meetups drove the adoption of new products, like video dating, and persuaded more people to pay for premium features. All in all, the industry had a chartbusting year.

“Acceptance and normalization of online dating was already underway before Covid-19,” says John Madigan, an analyst at business research firm IBISWorld, but tailwinds from the pandemic have accelerated growth. In the next four years, IBISWorld predicts that the global online dating industry will increase its worth from $5.3 billion to $6.4 billion.

Where there is money—or at least the smell of it—there are also startups. In the United States, at least 50 dating companies were founded between 2019 and 2021, according to data from Crunchbase. While that rate hasn’t changed much over the past decade, the total amount of funding has grown. These new startups represent a few fresh ideas in the dating space, and a hope that the next dating unicorn could emerge after a year of isolation.

For the most part, newer dating apps focus on Gen Z, a demographic that came of age in a post-Tinder world and represents the lion’s share of the industry’s projected revenue. Snack, which bills itself as a sort of “TikTok meets Tinder,” invites users to upload short videos for potential matches to scroll through. So does Lolly, an app that lets you “match with people while exploring sweet video content.” Marc Baghadjian, Lolly’s 22-year-old founder, says the app’s focus on video gives its users a better online dating experience. “You could be funny, you could be interesting, you could be talented, and you can show all of that in a video, in a way that you never could with your pictures.”

Feels also features a carousel of short-form videos on profiles, where people are supposed to express themselves in more dimensions. It’s marketed as the “anti dating app,” for people who believe that “swiping is boring” and that platforms like Tinder are too superficial. Laurent de Tapol, Feels’ cofounder, says the app has attracted 150,000 users since launching in April. He also acknowledges that most of those users will also create accounts on mainstream apps like Tinder and Hinge, if they don’t have profiles on them already. But de Tapol hopes people will be attracted to the experience on Feels, “where they can share much more about who they are, what they like, and express their very unique personality.”

Other dating apps eschew images altogether. Lex, a dating app for “queer, trans, gender non-conforming, two spirit, and non-binary people,” is inspired by newspaper personals: Its profiles use only text. So Synced, based in London, matches people based on their Myers-Briggs personality type.

Singles might be ready for some fresh ideas in dating, but these startups will largely be competing with each other—not with the industry whales. A single company, Match Group, is behind the largest online dating brands, including Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, and Match; altogether it represents nearly a third of the market, according to an October 2020 report from IBISWorld. eHarmony controls another 12 percent. The rest is divided among some 2,000 dating companies, the majority of which “operate with a market share of less than 1 percent.” For the most part, the little guys compete with each other, doing little to unseat Match Group as the dominant player.

Which is one reason investors have hesitated to fund dating startups. Andrew Chen, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, summed up several others in a 2015 blog post: It’s hard to retain users, there’s built-in churn, and profitable exits are unusual. A 2019 analysis by Crunchbase found that while there were a number of new entrants into the online dating space, the venture capital didn’t follow. Without substantial backing from investors, dating startups have an even harder time competing with the bigger players.