Workplace surveillance

Are you being monitored at work?

Monitoring software that can meticulously track and control the activities of employees is becoming more and more widespread. In some cases, data collection is so comprehensive that it amounts to total surveillance.

In many workplaces in Denmark, it has become quite normal for employees to periodically receive an automated email claiming to provide "a detailed insight into your work patterns".

For example, the sender could be Microsoft Viva, which calls itself "an employee experience platform" and tells you how much time you spend on different tasks.

The system monitors your inbox and what you write in your emails. It tells you how many external collaborators you've emailed and who you've met with on Teams. It might encourage you to use your working time more wisely so you can be more productive, or offer to help you "get more done".

Microsoft Viva is only one example. Other systems can track which websites you visit, what you type on your keyboard, or turn on the camera on your computer when you're working in your home office.

But what personal data do the IT systems at your workplace collect about you? What is all this data used for? How long is it stored?  And how much does your manager really know about you? 

Employers can collect data on employees

Almost all modern IT systems log data about your activities and behaviour. Computers and smartphones provided by your employer are linked to your company's software, potentially providing your employer with information on even the smallest tasks. If you also use the equipment in your private life, your leisure activities are also logged.

Some of this logging is about functionality, some is about ensuring a high level of IT security. But recent years have seen a boom in the deployment of proper monitoring software that not only tracks and ranks the performance of individual employees in the workplace, but approaches a 360-degree profile of employees.

According to Gartner, a major US consultancy and analyst firm, technologies are evolving at such a pace that it is almost impossible to keep up:

"Technology is moving faster than employees can comprehend and a lot faster than regulators can regulate it," Brian Kropp, head of HR research at Gartner, told the New York Times. 

Tell your story: Have you been monitored at work?

IDA would like to hear about your experiences with monitoring software or HR management systems at work.

What are the systems used for? Have you been properly informed about the purpose? And what do you think of the new monitoring technologies?

Your experiences will be part of IDA's study of surveillance in the Danish labour market and form the basis for IDA's recommendations.

You'll have complete anonymity and we'll only use your information if you consent.

Share your story by contacting IDA at

HR tools can spy on employees

One such app is WorkSmart, which can, among other things, activate the computer's camera to take pictures of the employees' home workplace every few minutes to check that they are present and active. According to the New York Times there are examples of companies only compensating employees for the time the employee is actively present at the computer.

Another product is US-based Forcepoint, whose software continuously calculates risk assessments for each employee and promises to detect "unusual" behaviour to strengthen the company's IT security.

According to Austrian researcher Wolfie Christl of the independent research institute Cracked Labs, Forcepoint monitors any use of devices and applications, any viewing or modification of files, as well as communications via email, chat or phone, visits to websites, search terms, printer use and physical access to offices.

In addition, GPS locations, hidden activation of the camera and microphone on the computer or even recordings of screen content and keystrokes.

"Some IT security systems process behavioural data about employees in a way that amounts to total surveillance of everyday life," says Wolfie Christl.

Bossware looks over employees' shoulders

Some call it bossware, others call it algorithmic management.

The systems have in common that they are a form of monitoring software that collects data about employees and allows the manager to look over your shoulder. And it's a development that experts say could radically alter workers' rights and autonomy, as well as the balance of power between employees and management.

In 2021, the British All-Party Parliamentary Group on The Future of Work (APPG) published a highly critical report on new surveillance technologies in the workplace.

"Employees typically don't understand how their personal and potentially sensitive information is being used to make decisions about the work they do. Our laws have long been overtaken by these powerful but invisible algorithmic systems, many of which originate in the US," writes APPG.

Monitoring at work - for whose benefit?

The continuous collection and storage of activity data can be used to create a better working environment, better quality, more efficient workflows and better service. But data can also be used to make decisions about pay and promotions - or to make decisions about redundancies.

The integration with cloud-based services means that few employees have the opportunity to understand what personal data is being processed for what purposes - and who is processing it.

At the same time, international studies show that constant monitoring, higher performance demands and algorithmic management can lead to stress, dissatisfaction and internal conflicts among employees. 

An important question is therefore: who benefits from the extensive data collection and when should employees have a say in what data can be used for?

IDA will be looking into this in the near future to ensure that employees do not end up as stowaways on a flight with an unknown destination.

The extent of surveillance in Danish workplaces is not known

There are no Danish studies on the extent of monitoring at work. That's why IDA is now mapping the use of surveillance software in Denmark and the impact it has on our well-being and rights at work.

Together with the think tank Algorithms, Data & Democracy (ADD), HK and the Data Ethics Council, we are conducting a major population survey and a series of workshops and conferences this autumn.

Are you being monitored at work?

We want to hear about your experiences with monitoring software or HR management systems at work. What are the systems used for? Have you been properly informed about its purpose? And what do you think of the new monitoring technologies? Your experiences will become part of IDA's study on monitoring in the Danish labour market and form the basis for IDA's recommendations. Of course, we promise full anonymity and will only use your information if you consent.

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