NEWS “without comment”
Big British Bank Barclays Accused Of Spying On Employees—This May Be The New Trend
Jack Kelly – Senior Contributor
August 13, 2020
Have you ever felt that your boss was spying on you? Maybe she peeked over your shoulder to see if you’re really working or just scrolling through Twitter or Instagram. You might have caught her eavesdropping on an important call with a major client. Who hasn’t—from time to time—wondered if that guy from IT placed tracking software on your computer and everything you do is being monitored?
If you work at Barclays, the large United Kingdom-based bank, you may have actually been spied upon and it’s not just your imagination. Reuters reported that Barclays is being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The privacy agency is examining the big bank to see if the company spied on its employees.
Back in August 2017, it was reported that Barclays installed software to allegedly find out if traders and bankers were sitting at their desks working or galivanting outside of the office. Employees started to notice a black box underneath their desks and questioned what was going on. It turned out the bank planted tracking devices called OccupEye, which is a heat and motion sensor. Employees believe Barclays implemented these devices to track how long they remained at their desks.
The bank claimed that it wasn’t snooping on its people, stating, “The sensors aren’t monitoring people or their productivity; they are assessing office space usage. This sort of analysis helps us to reduce costs, for example, managing energy consumption, or identifying opportunities to further adopt flexible work environments.” Barclays is alleged to have used this software for about 18 months. The bank said that it was changing the system after receiving blowback and criticism.
Banks have long used tools to watch over their employees. It’s not just checking up to see if they are doing their jobs or spending too much time at the pub. In an effort to ensure that financial institutions are not taking advantage of customers or employees engaging in insider trading or violating the rules, their actions are closely scrutinized and monitored.
Certain securities professionals are required to disclose their outside investments and business activities to ensure that there are no conflicts. Phone calls are monitored. Brokers, bankers, salespersons and traders have their activities regularly reviewed. Employees are told to take consecutive weeks of vacation to allow the bank time to see if they’ve been up to no good. This makes prudent sense, as it protects the customers, reputations of the banks and is used as a way to ensure that bankers, brokers and traders don’t do anything wrong.
A spokesperson from the regulator’s office said, “People expect that they can keep their personal lives private and that they are also entitled to a degree of privacy in the workplace. If organizations wish to monitor their employees, they should be clear about its purpose and that it brings real benefits.” The bank representative also added, “Organizations also need to make employees aware of the nature, extent and reasons for any monitoring.”
Another large international bank, Credit Suisse, was deeply embroiled in its own spying scandal. Back in February, two high-profile executives became bitter rivals jockeying for better positions within the bank.
One of the gentlemen decided to resign. It was alleged that private investigators were hired by Credit Suisse to spy on the former senior-level executive. In one wild instance, the bank was accused of having the departed executive followed. He was alleged to have been tailed by private security. As the former executive, along with his wife, drove through the streets of Zurich, they were followed by another car. This led to a confrontation, which was reported to Credit Suisse. This resulted in the employment of a senior manager at the bank—supposedly behind the espionage—getting terminated. A private investigator killed himself and the CEO stepped down.
On a less grandiose level, now that millions of Americans are working from home, there’s concern that companies will be spying on them. The New York Times reported, “Demand has surged for software that can monitor employees, with programs tracking the words we type, snapping pictures with our computer cameras and giving our managers rankings of who is spending too much time on Facebook and not enough on Excel.”
The remote worker referenced in the article shared his experience, “Last month, I downloaded employee-monitoring software made by Hubstaff, an Indianapolis company. Every few minutes, it snapped a screenshot of the websites I browsed, the documents I was writing and the social media sites I visited. From my phone, it mapped where I went, including a two-hour bike ride that I took around Battersea Park with my kids in the middle of one workday. (Whoops.)”
“Employees who are now subject to new levels of surveillance report being both ‘incredibly stressed out’ by the constant monitoring and also afraid to speak up, a recipe for not only dissatisfaction but also burnout, both of which—ironically—decrease productivity,” wrote the Harvard Business Review.
According to the Los Angeles Times, companies have been scrambling as “they’re trying to allow their employees to work from home, but trying to maintain a level of security and productivity.”
A spokesperson for a financial services firm that uses surveillance software justifies the organization’s decision, asserting, “The enhanced monitoring of at-home employees we implemented will ensure that those members of our workforce who work from home will continue to meet quality and productivity standards that are expected from all workers.”
As you’re dealing with an overwhelming amount of stress during the pandemic, now it seems you might have to be concerned that your company is always watching you too.